Negative User Stories and Email Subscriptions

Reading time ~ 3 minutes

When I first joined Red Gate nearly 4 years ago my first major project was working on a replacement system for managing marketing and transactional email for our customers.

Yes – email marketing – and boy did we suck!

Back in summer 2011 I kicked-off some team research, analysis and story activities on one major enhancement we wanted to develop – “Subscription Management”.

This sounds pretty straightforward right?

Hell no!

This is a sensitive area involving a series of tensions between international compliance & standards, good end-user experience, the working lives of a marketing team and ultimately the reputation of the company.

Let’s put this into context of a few major groups of users (this is just a subset)

1: The “Customer”

I bought your software once, I pay my annual support & maintenance, I’m reasonably happy with what I have. Let me know when there’s a free upgrade or my renewal is due but don’t sent me any more damn marketing or I’ll report you as a spammer.

2: The “Tourist”

I attended an event sponsored by you at some point in my life and since this I seem to sporadically receive mails from you or one of your affiliate companies. I’m interested in the community stuff and freebies so I might read some of the mails you send but if they’re not directly relevant to my interests I want to get off of whatever list/sub-list I’m on fast.

3: The “Fan”

I bitched about your company when you acquired a free product and turned it into a paying one but I’ll concede you guys have done an awesome job and I already used a few of your other tools anyway.

I’m always on the lookout for things that make my life easier and I’m not averse to finding out about the new developments you have in the area I work in.

If you send out something interesting I’ll even share it.

These people are worth looking after & listening to but they’re a fickle bunch – use with caution.

4: The “WTF”

How the hell did I get on this list? I’ve never heard of you, stop sending me spam!

It turns out they attended an event or downloaded some freebie from an affiliate site an their details found their way into the system or into the hands of a marketer who moved project, role or teams but kept their contact “because it was closely related”.

5: The “Prospect”

Yup, that’s right – you might actually be sending mails to real prospects!

What are they trying to achieve right now and what’s the most useful thing you could offer them?

If that’s not in the mails you’re sending, expect an unsubscribe. Staying in there inbox “to keep them aware” is probably not going to improve their opinion of your products.

6: The Marketer

I’ve been sending mails to this specific subset of the company-wide install base for years. I have my campaigns carefully planned with content, timings, massive target audience etc. I’d love to see the campaign convert into direct revenue but I’m more interested in getting it out of the door as one small part of my overall marketing strategy for the quarter.

This should be the easy bit, right?

What do you mean everyone unsubscribed because half a dozen other marketers hit them with irrelevant stuff over the last month as well?


Yup. That really used to happen here.

So the great thing is that with a little research, designing a great user experience around email subscriptions is surprisingly easy. There’s a basic set of users with competing and/or overlapping needs but more importantly. When someone doesn’t want your marketing mails, that doesn’t mean they hate you. It’s not a break-up, it’s not the end of a beautiful relationship, it’s simply someone asserting their needs.

So many companies manage to screw this up because they focus only on the needs of the marketer.

Make opting out a positive experience and chances are if a contact has a reason to talk to you (or someone like you) again they’ll be in touch. If they don’t – well, there’s no point in them being a contact still, right?

Spend a bit of time thinking about the more negative interfaces your customers, users and prospects have with your company.

What small steps can you take to raise the bar on these?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *