Email Marketing: Don’t Alienate Your Audience

Retention and sales through email marketing is a cornerstone of your business, so let’s talk best practices for your email list

Adam Fout
June 28 2017

Your email list is this beautiful, incredible, fickle, tragic thing, a tool that serves as both the centerpiece of your ongoing marketing efforts and as the focal point of your customer’s largest annoyances. It’s a wellspring of upsells and cross-sells and a fount of opportunities to alienate your audience and drive customers away.

If it’s managed well, it can make you a great deal of money and keep existing customers engaged, happy, and coming back for more.

If it’s managed poorly or merely viewed as a source of cash, squeezing the blood from this turnip can sour customer relationships, hurt your reputation, and lead to more headaches than you thought possible.

Sounds wonderful, right?

And, uh, in case you’ve got it in your head—or even acted on the idea—that email is “dead,” please go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done — because you’re bad, and you should feel bad.

I wrote about how non-dead email is a few weeks ago, but I think some of the statistics from my new favorite email marketing website,, show perfectly that not only is email not dead, but it’s probably more vibrant than it’s ever been.

Email Marketing Is Not Dead — And You Need to Understand This at a Gut Level Before You Do Anything With Your Email List

The reason I’m harping on this so much is because many people, either consciously or in the back of their little marketing minds, have it in their head that email is on the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to marketing and customer retention.

This is about as backwards as you can get, so let me cite some of those statistics from our friends at, just in case you’re still on the fence.

“81% of US online shoppers are more likely to make additional purchases, either online or in a store, as a result of emails based on previous shopping behaviors and preferences.” — Harris Interactive

“One in five (19%) of consumers said they read every email newsletter they receive just to see if something’s on offer.” — Forrester Research, North American Technographics survey (2014)

“68% of consumers find email to be their #1 preferred channel for receiving commercial messages” — CG Selections ‘National Email Onderzoek’ (2013)

“Marketers consistently ranked email as the single most effective tactic for awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention.” — Gigaom Research ‘Workhorses and dark horses: digital tactics for customer acquisition’ (2014)

And then there are these ones from our friends in the marketing ivory towers: email marketing reduced the perceived risk of making a purchase and email marketing can be sent almost every day without annoying your customers.

(That depends on what you’re sending, of course.)

If this is dead then I’m looking forward to the afterlife.

The truth is, email is your best friend, and it’s one of the few reliable methods of taking ice cold leads and warming them up by doing little more than providing value — it’s also one of the few reliable methods of keeping your current customers engaged, in the loop, and feeling valued.

And to start, you need a little segmentation.

#1 Segment Your List

“Overall performance of subscriber activity was improved after sending out email campaigns to segmented groups of subscribers based on their individual interest.” — A conceptual Model model for effective email marketing

It can certainly seem like if retention, not sales is the focus, that list segmentation shouldn’t go further than “current customers.”

That’s so simplistic and almost worthless — but I mention it because I see it all the time.

When we add people to lists initially, the savvy marketer spends a great deal of time figuring out demographics, AIO, customer journey location, and other fun facts so the marketing that targets your new email subscriber is as useful to them as possible — this can often be done automatically, or, at least, through the clever use of forms and surveys.

But then this weird thing happens. The customer makes a purchase and suddenly, it’s like we stopped caring about them completely — they just become a “current customer,” and their needs and interests fly out the window.

Just because someone is a current customer doesn’t mean we halt our marketing efforts; on the contrary, it means we ramp them up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve become peeved with a business and switched to another provider because I see them offering an amazing deal to new customers while I’m sitting over here with my old deal crying myself to sleep.

Segmentation is more important for your current customers than for new leads. I mean, for Pete’s Sake, your current customers have already demonstrated a willingness to give you large wads of cash! Don’t alienate them by shoving them into a big pile in your email list.

And when you have new deals to drum up business, your existing customers should be first on the list to receive word of these deals, they should receive word via email. Those deals should be better for them than for leads — new leads can come afterwards and receive less value as they haven’t yet proven their loyalty.

If you want to see what segmentation looks like in practice, read Matt Duczeminski’s article on customer diversity and segmentation here.

#2 Provide Value (and Stop Selling so Hecking Much)

You may feel as though it’s in your very nature to sell at every opportunity, that customers on your email list should always be inundated with your latest, greatest deal and pushed-pushed-pushed into buying something.

If you feel this way, I pray for your children — stop it!

Email lists are strange things — if handled well, some lists can be goldmines, and others if handled poorly, become rotten, toxic beasts that you’ll never make a cent off of.

One of the main ways to rot a list is by constantly selling in the most annoying manner possible, and providing little actual value.

Now, annoyance is something that just can’t be avoided in some cases. While it’s certainly possible to set up a very complicated series of feedback loops or automations that will move people on your list in and out of various drips and campaigns, most firms don’t have the human-power, tools, or capital to do this — and even if they do, they’re not willing to devote the time.

(If you’re one of those firms with the willingness to do this, to really ramp up your email marketing, you need to read Shachar Ben-David’s article on marketing automation here.)

So what’s a brand to do? How do you keep from annoying your customers while still making your time worthwhile?

How do you sell to your current customers without filling them with rage?

Provide value.

Look, both your leads and your customers signed up for your email list for a reason — they think you’re going to provide them with something of value. Your current customers may only think that for a short time, however, especially if they didn’t really have an option when getting on the list in the first place.

Which means that it’s more important with your current customers to provide value than with your leads. In fact, a good portion of your leads want you to sell them something, but your customers may not be interested in being sold to at all.

At least, not at first.

There is an exception; if you are consistently providing something of value in your emails instead of selling directly, if you make those emails worthwhile, your customers are a) going to be happier with you and your company, b) probably make more purchases, and c) be less likely to go with another company.

I’ll discuss what that looks like in practice below, but the basic idea is to pair content marketing, which you can learn more about in Erez Romas’ article here, with promotions.

#3 Give Your Current Customers Exclusive Information, Deals, or Content That Your Leads Get Later (or Not at All)

So providing something of value makes sense, and I think plenty of business owners and marketers are doing that already, but they’re often doing so leads and customers alike.

At best, your customers have no clue that the deals you offer them are the same deals you offer your leads. At worst, your customer sees this amazing deal that you’re offering to new people while they sit there, staring at their old deal, wondering how they got swindled.

And we don’t want that.

The same goes for providing valuable content or insider information. Your current customers want to feel like you’re treating them like they’re special. They want to feel excited about the deals, content, and information you’re sharing with them, to feel like they’re the only ones getting all this stuff.

If it’s not exclusive, if everyone and their mother gets access to these valuable daily deals, to valuable free content, or to valuable insider information about your products or services, then your customers are going to start to wonder if they’re really special.

If they’re not special, if you don’t see them as special, then why should they stick around? All a competitor has to do is offer a slightly better deal and off your customers fly.

But, if your customers feel like they’re valued, like they get something by virtue of being your customer that no one else gets, if you’re sending emails to them that no one else is getting, then they’re much less likely to fall into the churn whirlpool.

Here’s what that might look like in practice:

  • Providing exclusive deals that are only available to customers
  • Providing deeper discounts or broader deals compared to what leads are offered
  • Providing paid content for reduced prices or for free
  • Providing early access to products or services (works especially well when paired with promotions or discounts)
  • Providing exclusive access to limited or special editions of a product or service
  • Providing inside information that’s not provided to the public, especially about upcoming products or services
  • Providing interviews or product/service stories that are not released publicly

You get the picture — the point is to give your customers something of value that no one else is getting.

People love this stuff. The interview with the artist on their upcoming album, the deeper daily discount that’s way better than the discount on the Facebook page, the eBook that’s only free for customers, early access to the special edition of your product at a reduced price — the list goes on.

If you’re including things like this in your emails to your customers, they’re going to love you for it. They’re going to stay engaged, they’re going to keep you top of mind, and, most importantly, they’ll be forming an emotional bond with your company.

Because they’ll feel like you care.

Sharing is caring, folks, and nothing can annoy a customer quite like finding out the discounts they receive are available to anyone (or worse, that new customers are getting better deals than what they have currently).

If they know that they save more money by virtue of being your customer, if they know that they always get the best new deals, if they know that they’re top-of-mind for you, they’re going to know that you value them.

And they’re going to keep spending money — which is what we’re going for here, right?

Follow These Best Practices for Your Email List, and Your Customers Will Love You for It

If you pair this with segmentation, if you’re doing your best to not just provide exclusive items of value to your customers, but to provide different exclusive items of value to different customers, their connection with you is only going to deepen.

Talk is cheap, and your actions speak loudly as a company. If I know that, even as a customer, you know me well enough to only send me the deals and free content that you think I’d like, I’m going to feel even more valued and I’m going to be more likely to stick around.

Even that can be tough, and there are a lot of pitfalls that marketers and business owners don’t even realize they’re teetering over, ways they might be losing customers they hadn’t even considered.

Or are blind to.

Read more about how to stop customers from leaving (by looking at yourself) in Lauren Dowdle’s article here.

And keep on truckin’, marketers.

Adam Fout

Adam Fout, resident content and brand sorcerer at BlueSteelSolutions, guides brands through the mystical process of creating website and blog content that enchants customers and entices leads. He also writes fiction in his free time at My Website

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