Guest Blogs, Laura Christensen

The Importance of Trust Between Email Senders and Subscribers


Performance metrics are critical to assess the success of email marketing. Much time and attention is spent analyzing open rates, click-throughs, and conversion rates; yet there is an underlying metric which has a significant impact on all performance: subscriber trust.

When email marketing is built around trust, subscribers are more likely to opt in and not only engage with messages, but also convert and remain loyal to a brand. But what does it take to create subscriber trust in an era of data breaches and increasing email privacy legislation?

The following recommendations are steps toward building and sustaining subscriber trust.

Make a good first impression. Make the opt-in process simple, and make sure permissioning is easy to understand. A pre-checked box or ambiguous opt-in language may increase your list size, but is more likely to result in subscribers who ignore or complain about your messages. Moreover, if you have subscribers within EU jurisdiction, GDPR requires granular, unbundled consent for email, social networks, SMS, and profiling. Also, be clear about the benefits of signing up for email so subscribers have compelling reasons to receive your messages. Finally, let subscribers know what to expect. Setting expectations about message content and frequency will prime subscribers for engagement and conversion.

Make the subscriber relationship a top priority. It can be easy to take subscribers for granted and neglect the subscriber experience. Don’t think of subscribers only as a list; remember you are emailing actual people. Use the data you have available, including demographic, behavior, and preferences to make subscriber messages helpful and relevant. Marketers who aren’t currently able to target subscribers at a one-to-one level can still develop personas to help define who you’re communicating with. Understanding who your subscriber is and applying relevant data to your contact strategy allows you to more effectively meet subscriber needs and exceed their expectations.

Be consistent. Consistency is important when it comes to branding, message tone, and even cadence. Not only does this build trust with subscribers, it also establishes trust with mailbox providers. Abrupt changes in sending domain, IP address, or sudden spikes or drops in volume can be considered “spammy” behavior and may prevent messages from reaching the inbox.

Be authentic. Before any subscriber opens an email, they check to see who it’s from. Using a clear “From” name and sending address provides a clear indication of your identity, putting the subscriber’s mind at ease. Avoid using a “no reply” email address, as subscribers may infer that you don’t want to hear from them. In addition, email replies can actually help improve deliverability, as mailbox providers consider this a positive measure of engagement. It’s also important to authenticate messages by ensuring at minimum that SPF and DKIM are in place, while also considering DMARC.

Mean what you say. If a subscriber feels misled by your subject lines, messaging, or promises made during signup, they are more likely to disengage—or worse yet, complain about your messages.

Give your subscriber space. Pay attention to cues across the subscriber lifecycle. If subscriber engagement begins to wane, discontinue promotional messages and try to win them back with a re-engagement series, reminding them of subscription benefits.

Get personal. Is your contact strategy focused solely on your business goals, or does it also take into account what’s important to your subscriber? While it may be easy to send everyone on your list the same email content at the same frequency, a lack of relevancy or personalization can frustrate subscribers. Develop a customer-centric strategy by considering what subscribers actually want, rather than just what benefits your business.

Keep open communication. The best way to find out what a subscriber wants and needs from you is by regularly asking for feedback. With the help of surveys, preference data, browse and purchase data, and even complaints, you can understand what’s working and what’s not with regard to meeting subscriber expectations. Let subscribers how their feedback and preferences will be used to improve their subscriber experience, and then follow through by crafting more relevant future emails based on the data provided.

Be honest when things go wrong. Everyone—and every brand—makes mistakes. When brands fail to live up to subscriber expectations or breach their trust, it is critical to communicate with subscribers. Start by acknowledging the mistake and be transparent about any impact to the subscriber. Then clearly communicate what you will do to restore subscriber trust and make sure you follow through.

Know when to let go. If a subscriber wants to unsubscribe from your program, make the process easy and straightforward. This will reduce spam complaints and overall deliverability, and give the exiting subscriber a positive impression of your brand. The fact is, even if marketers don’t provide an easy method of unsubscribing, mailbox providers will. In April, Gmail launched their new smart unsubscribe feature which actively asks users whether they’d like to unsubscribe from certain promotional emails they haven’t opened in 30+ days. Last year Yahoo rolled out a similar feature prompting users to unsubscribe after they have deleted emails multiple times from a given sender.

Just like any successful relationship, trust isn’t created by a single action, but through a continuous pattern of behavior over time. Treating subscribers like you want to be treated will have significant impact in the success of your email program. Trust me.

    Laura Christensen | Email Strategist at Return Path

    Laura Christensen
    Senior Email Strategist at Return Path
    Laura is an Email Strategist for Return Path, the worldwide leader in email intelligence. As a true Maximizer, she leverages email program data and insight to identify what’s good and make it excellent, somewhat obsessively at times. After spending more than 15 years in the email industry, she’s passionate about helping her clients create better subscriber experiences for increased engagement, retention, and overall email program performance. She continues to work with clients across multiple industries to identify email program vulnerabilities and opportunities, refining strategies to achieve success.

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