This morning I got a rather naughty email campaign from Cordings – a respectable country clothing outfitter based in Picadilly.

The campaign was sent to people who had previously unsubscribed from their emails – a legal and best practice no-no.

Why companies get this wrong

Now, I can see how this happens to companies, they see a pool of unusable email addresses on one hand, and see the massive returns that email marketing is getting them on the other. They put 2 and 2 together and decide to try to win back some lost customers.

I imagine that someone has also heard the term “reactivation email” and either jumped to conclusions about what it means or has had it explained badly, or by someone who really doesn’t understand the implications themselves.

Why you should never email an unsubscribed address

First off, lets deal with the crime at hand.

Never ever email someone who has unsubscribed to your list, until they have given you new permission to do so.

I’ve seen a few of these happen and this is why you should never do it…

1) It’s illegal – it contravenes the Data Protection Act 1998 in the UK, the CAN-SPAM act in the US, and a load of other countries laws as well.

2) It will do more harm than good.

Legal issues aside – if you were driven by commercial desires, you still shouldn’t do this. The reason is that you’ll get more spam complaints than you’ll get returning customers. Your email provider will see these and you may lose your email marketing account.

The big email providers such as Gmail, Hotmail and a host of corporate email hosts will also see the complaints. Your deliverability (the rate at which your messages get through spam filters) will take a massive hit and legitimate customers will cease getting your messages.

What to do instead

There are two things a company can do if it sees it is losing more email addresses than it is gaining.

1) Stem the tide

2) Acquire more than they are losing

Let’s take each one in turn

Stemming the tide of lost email addresses

Lost attention leads to lost emails. It’s as simple as that.

Lose a customer’s attention and they stop opening your emails. Then they get bored of seeing them, then they unsubscribe (or worse, hit the spam button).

If you are getting lots of unsubscribes, have a look at that data. The root cause might be that they came in from a route that they weren’t really engaged with you. Maybe a competition entrant with no intention of buying.

They might also be seasonal gift buyers in which case you’re going to find it very hard to get them to buy at any other time (but conversely quite easy to get them to buy at the same time next year).

Then try to find customers who haven’t engaged with you for a while but are still subscribed.

These are the target for your reactivation email campaigns. That’s campaigns. Plural.  You should develop as many campaigns as you can find reasons to leave, and corresponding reasons to stay.

Start with one though, don’t get overwhelmed at the task, just pick one barrier to a customer’s first or repeat purchase and take action. A short term offer usually works well, a fast expiring discount code, free shipping works well if you don’t want to discount the product itself and be seen to offer higher levels of service. Maybe free gift-wrap or an add-on product.

Low cost marketing automation tools, like ActiveCampaign can trigger these campaigns automatically at certain dates.

Acquiring more addresses

What makes the particular campaign from Cordings so frustrating is how they are missing so many opportunities to gather new addresses elsewhere.

– There’s a tiny sign-up box in the header.

– There’s a promising “get the latest news” banner on the homepage that leads to a very dull account creation form, which is just confusing.

– The blog – which should be their best opportunity to gather email addresses – misses every trick such as light-boxes or sign-up forms at the end of each page.

None of these carry any cost beyond some initial set-up work, but can reap huge benefits. I put a similar strategy in on a small T-shirt store last year and each week we convert 2-5% of all site visitors to email sign-ups.

For a luxury brand like Cordings, the conversion rate on an ecommerce site is likely to be very low, usually less than 1%, so it makes complete sense to try to capture those users and use email marketing to manage repeated attempts to engage and eventually sell to them.

So, before you start to look woefully at your list of lost email addresses, have a think about what opportunities you are creating to grow that list with fresh, eager new customers.