Monday, November 10, 2008

How to Avoid TMI in Email: When Less Is More

by Josh Nason

You have them dead in your sights. They're eager to sign up for your email list. (Yeah, they actually want to get information from you!) The user is on your site and that all-important Subscribe click is made. You are seconds away from having another prospect to market to, and then... they stop.

They go away, never to return because they were turned off. Why? What happened?

It's an ill that has plagued marketers for years. Heck, even I had it in my former life as a sports marketer. It's called TMI-tis, short for Too Much Information-itis. You're not alone, however, so don't fear. Read on for help in curing your email marketing ills.

It starts simply. You're setting up fields for your email signup form and instead of grabbing just the basics for information, you start to wander. What if I got all the information I want up front? That would save me so much time! Who cares about emailing them at that point? I'll have it all! Bwahahahaha!

So then it begins: name, address, home number, work number, mobile number, bag phone number, AOL IM, Yahoo IM, favorite band, favorite station, favorite team. Sure, you don't make it required that all the fields are filled in, but while they're there why not offer it, right?

All they wanted was to supply you with was an email address, but instead the end users are looking at a form worthy of governmental consideration.

Eventually, the process you create gets so bad that the person attempting to sign up can't even find where to enter in an email address, which was the only reason they clicked to begin with. They get frustrated, the browser window closes, and within seconds you've lost a potential addition to your list because you came down with TMI-tis: You got greedy.

Let's get to the root of what you're trying to do: collect emails from someone who wants to stay in contact with your company or client. They've attempted to engage you by opting to give you their address, so you've already achieved your goal. Stop right there.

While it's tempting to assume that they'll be willing to give you every possible bit of information while they're at this critical juncture, ask yourself what you're going to do with that information when you get it. Is there an immediate purpose and plan, or are you getting it "just because"? If you hesitate with answering this question at all, then you should be asking just the basics: first/last name, email and zip code. This allows to you know who the email owner is, how to contact them, and where they're from.

However, if you really need that info right away, I'd suggest going about it a different way.

Most times, you will probably get those highly coveted demographics and psychographics just by smart marketing. Try a targeted data-collection initiative to your list, securing information for the chance to win something of high value. You could do a direct sales campaign, offering a specific product in a specific window of time that would achieve your data collection goal. Or you could just practice great email marketing and entice them to provide information in other legitimate ways.

A few examples:

* Sending out timely newsletters with worthwhile and engaging content that builds trust. If users trust the source, they will be more likely to supply information for a contest or some other sort of data-collection drive.
* Doing a "recommend-a-friend" push whereby you award prizes for the most people recommended who sign up for the marketer's list. On the sign-up landing page, ask the initial user (the "recommender") for the rest of their info. If they're engaged in asking others to sign up and there's a trust already established, this might be a chance to get them if you feel the timing is right.
* Surveys: If you can create a very short-and-sweet survey asking some other important information, you can probably also get your additional demo information here.

Ultimately, there are ways to get what you want without overwhelming end users and losing them before they bite the hook. Don't overcomplicate the process... just do what you do best!

A good rule of thumb is to put yourself in the slightly-worn out seat of the end user. You're a busy person just like your potential subscribers. If you were sitting in front of a computer and signing up for an email list, what would you want your user experience to be like? Signing up to receive emails shouldn't be an uncomfortable and lengthy process.

A few other thoughts on the email-signup process:

* Please, please, please don't make people choose a username/password to get emails. I subscribe to a few arena mailing lists to get information on concerts, and two of them required me to create a username/password. Why? I'm not that concerned about someone hacking into my account and changing my music preferences from Tool to Toby Keith, so why should they? It's email, not national security.
* Always use the double-opt-in process. Keep your lists legit and clean. This is something people are now accustomed to doing, so don't look it as a needless extra step on their behalf.
* Keep them on your site during the signup process. I cannot stand it that when I'm attempting to sign up for a list, a non-branded window pops up for me to fill in. Any email marketing company worth its salt should able to provide you, the marketer, with HTML code that you can format into your own site, so that users don't have jump to a stock order-form landing page.

My marketing friends, the golden rule with avoiding TMI-tis is to keep it simple. Do whatever it takes to get subscribers in your database with as little difficulty as possible. Then, get the rest of the information the old-fashioned way: by providing a service they absolutely have to have.

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