It is important for brands to make the unsubscribe process as easy as possible for recipients of marketing emails, but is it possible to pre-empt this and re-engage them with your emails? 

I received an email from HMV today, and this suggests that the retailer is trying to make its emails more relevant to customers. So is this an approach that will prevent customers from unsubscribing?

Here's the email I received from HMV: 

hmv email pref 2

It's a sensible strategy, better to have user select their preferences now (if they want to) than to wait until they are tired of receiving emails. 

I do wonder who is going to respond to this email though. If you haven't been opening HMV's emails for a while, then what incentive is there to take the time to click the link and select your preferences? Perhaps more people would take the time if they were offered the incentive of a discount. 

It's more likely that those recipients that are already relatively engaged with HMV's emails will set their preferences, though this does at least allow the retailer to provide more relevant messages to this segment. 

This is the landing page that the email leads to. While i applaud the principle, i think the page suffers from poor usability, and the options offered don't address all possible reasons for dissatisfaction with emails. 

Hmv email preferences

The usability issue is that the method of choosing how many emails you want for a particular category looks like a slider tool, but isn't. If you click on the arrow and attempt to move it, nothing will happen.

What you actually need to do is to click on one of the three areas to select your preference, but this isn't made clear at all, something which could be annoying for users. 

The landing page allows users to say whether they want updates on games, event tickets, music, DVDs etc, which is a sensible move. However, once it has persuaded the user to click through and set their preferences, i think HMV has missed a trick by not asking the right questions.

It tells users they may receive up to three marketing emails per week based on their selections, but this is quite a lot for some people, and it isn't made clear how their selections will affect the frequency of emails

What should HMV have done? 

Once subscribers have clicked the link in the email and shown a willingness to update their preferences, HMV has an opportunity to get more valuable information than this. 

This includes: 

  • Email frequency. Rather than telling users that they may receive up to three emails per week, it could have allowed people to select how often they want to receive emails. 
  • Musical tastes. I may want to receive updates on music, MP3s etc more often, if I don't like Justin Bieber I don't want emails telling me his new album has just been released.

    HMV should ask me more about my musical tastes, genres etc, to make my emails more relevant. The same principle applies to DVDs, games etc. 

  • Let users leave feedback. This is also a valuable opportunity to get feedback from users on what they think about the content and frequency of the emails they have received. 
  • Use purchase history to send more relevant emails. If I have made a few purchases on HMV, then it should have a decent idea about my preferences. 

Though retailers should glean as much information as they can when people initially subscribe, and from their purchase history, the idea of asking email subscribers to update their preference is a good idea, far better than waiting for them to tire of emails and either unsubscribe or report them as spam. 

However, in this case, HMV could have executed the idea more effectively, and asked better questions to make future emails more relevant to subscribers. 

Graham Charlton

Published 23 March, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (6)

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Georgia Christian - Mail Blaze

Nicely put Graham. I think email preference centers can be hugely beneficial and engaging with your customers, but if done ineffectively will simply leave them feeling frustrated or that the process was actually just a waste of time.

over 7 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

I like the concept of a slider tool to set preference. It reflects customers sometimes grey opinion of what interests them, rather than having to pick yes or no.

Shame that it doesn't actually function as a slider.

Great point about matching the preference choices to the customers view point. For music will be genre and artists. For live music venue.

What was the subject line? A plain and honest subject line can work better than an incentive to get no-openers to finally engage and provide prference. HMV send a lot of 'incentive/offer' subject lines for their normal emails.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi Tim,

The subject line was 'an update to your account'.

over 7 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

Hi Graham,

Thanks - that subject line is a bit rubbish then :-)

May be something more along the lines....

Please tell us what you interests you
Make our emails more interesting for you
Tailor our email offers to your wishes
Help cut the rubbish from your inbox

Of course I'd do some split testing on the subject line approach. I'm sure "an update to your account" is not a split test winner.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

It seemed a bit rubbish to me. If I wasn't writing for this blog I wouldn't have opened it.

over 7 years ago


Penny Ashley-Lawrence

I like how they showed the landing page in the email. This set expectations and showed how simple (and cool) the process would be.

about 7 years ago

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