What kind of relationship should marketers aim to have with subscribers?

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Answer: Marketers sometimes like to think of their e-mail subscribers as family. Families are amazing social organisms; however, the relationships upon which they are built are bound together by blood, not choice. God loves DNA, but who hasn’t sat at a family reunion at some point wondering how in the world you’re related to these people?

Therein lies the important difference between e-mail subscribers and family members: The subscribers actually asked to be in a relationship with you. As a result, e-mail marketers must never subject their subscribers to cousin Timmy’s violin “talent,” sister Kate’s secret recipe for three-bean casserole, stepbrother Bob’s request for “a loan” or uncle Stan’s “racing” Speedo.

Put in another way, e-mail marketers must work to avoid the kind of familiarity with their subscribers that breeds contempt. We must always be focused on serving their needs first. In a family, blood ties can wash away certain transgressions, but in a subscriber relationship, you may have yet to build the brand loyalty that keeps subscribers with you through thick and thin.

Accordingly, e-mail marketers must work to treat their subscribers better than family by: Honoring their preferences with regard to communication, content, frequency and channel; leveraging organizational data (point of sale, Web analytics, loyalty programs, etc.) to create truly personalized communications and giving them the option to end the relationship when it suits their changing needs.

Do these things and your e-mail marketing ROI will undoubtedly climb as your subscriber relationships strengthen. Best of all, you won’t have to pretend that you like the three-bean casserole to do it.

Jeffrey K. Rohrs is VP-marketing at ExactTarget (, a provider of e-mail marketing solutions.

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