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Monday, December 20, 2010

My opinion: How to not run a loyalty program

I keep a folder in my personal email account called “Bad Business.” It is the place I deposit examples of what I believe to be really poorly executed email marketing. This is not faceless spam that comes from some nameless hacker, mind you… the folder holds examples of email marketing that I believe could be doing more harm than good. Now, I don’t like to single-out or pick on any company in particular, but a recent sequence of messages I’ve received from Best Buy simply offers too many good teaching moments. I can’t resist. Can you spot the missteps that lead to the risk of losing a loyal customer?

Back on October 29th, I received an email from Best Buy Reward Zone that included the following text:

“We are writing to let you know that Best Buy has changed the way it manages opt-out preferences. Going forward, opting out of either Reward Zone or Best Buy marketing communications will result in being removed from both marketing lists. In order to honor your request to receive Reward Zone program e-mails containing special offers, invitations to events and account updates, you have been opted-in to receiving Best Buy marketing communications generally.”

In other words, Best Buy was letting me know that they were going to start using my email address the way they wanted to, not the way I wanted them to. Within a few days, I had already received several sales messages that struck me as abuse-of-access, so I opted-out of the program they had shoved me into. The notice I got back said, “It could take up to ten days” to stop receiving emails. (Funny, when I change the auto-response setting in Outlook, it happens the moment I click on, “OK.” Best Buy sells a lot of tech equipment, and they even have their own Geek Squad; they should be able to figure this out much more quickly than ten days… like, NOW.)

Anyway, the opt-out was not successful. I continued to receive emails (I wanted to see how long this foolishness would go on). But it wasn’t just the number of unwanted advances that was stunning to me… it was the nature of the messages. I received coupons for movie tickets (to shows that had no appeal to me), tacos and pizza (Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, you are complicit in this insanity), and other offers that had little or nothing to do with Best Buy’s knowledge of what kind of things I might spend on! (I’ve received at least ten smartphone offers, even though I purchased one just weeks before the spamming started.)

After too many unwelcome and irrelevant advances, I added the company to my spam list this morning. Best Buy, I’ve opted-out of my relationship with you... whether you like it or not.

Implications: If your marketing efforts include an email component… go back through this story to spot the mistakes Best Buy may have made (in my humble opinion), and see if your company could be at risk of making some of the same missteps.

“Opt-in” is short for giving people the option of participating. A company cannot “opt me in.” That’s my decision. Ask your customers for permission, and sell them on why it’s a good idea to receive communication from your company.

“Opt-out” means knock it off! “No,” means “no.” Consumers are not so stupid to think that a “stop sending me email” command is delivered by pony express and could thus take ten days to arrive.

If I give you access, give me respect. You knew my age and interest, based on information I had given you and transactions I had completed with you in the past. Don’t send tickets to a teenage-appeal suspense movie to a fifty year-old guy. That’s just common sense.

Smart email policy is not dictated by your company. It is decided by your customers.

[Note: The New York Times offered a story about Best Buy’s current state of operations in their December 17th edition. Click here to see it, and see whether there are more learning opportunities within.]

Mike Anderson

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