A Valentine's Message for Marketers: If You Love Your Customers, Let Them Go

Time for a New Movement to Save Consumers From Incessant Email: The 'Universal Begone'

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Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
Email has gone too far. Our inboxes are full of unsolicited crap. And I don't mean spam. I just mean legitimate companies of all kinds emailing us about everything.

If you are a marketer, we have this Valentine's Day message for you: if you love your customer, let them go.

Marketers say that they want to be responsible, and many include links and instructions in their emails to comply with the CAN-SPAM act. These links are often small and gray -- hiding at the bottom of the message. The marketer is saying, in effect "We'll let you leave, we are complying with the law, but we don't want to make it easy."

It's like a scavenger hunt. Can you find the link? If you click on it, where do you end up? And what if you're not connected, say, on an airplane? Are you supposed to wait until you deplane to get off the mailing list? Why make it difficult?


Starting today, I propose a new program: Universal Begone.

Universal Begone is intended to make things easy for us, the consumers. The principle is simple. If I receive an email from anyone whom I don't wish to receive emails with in the future, I reply with the word "begone" in the subject line.

Begone, as in "be gone, don't bother me anymore." A word, I point out, that is unlikely to be used for any other purpose.

The emailer is then responsible for taking me off their mailing list and not emailing me again.

If you're sending a begone email response and want to spread the word and help the emailer you've "begoned" to understand, include the following URL in your email response: http://forr.com/Begone, the home page for the Begone Movement.

Email marketers may reply, "But ... we might have you on multiple lists. Do you want to stop receiving our daily newsletter, or stop receiving emails about your order status?" Fine. Send an email back giving us a choice. "To get off all our mailing lists, reply with BEGONE LISTS. To get off our newsletter list, type BEGONE NEWSLETTER."

You may say, "We're not set up to receive responses from the email address we use for sending." Why is this the consumer's problem? All you have to do is check the responses to see if they include the word "begone." Easy.

Look, Zappos, the most popular shoestore on the planet, offers free returns. Does this mean they want you to return their products? Of course not. But by offering free returns, they say, "We value our relationship with you" over "We want to make it harder for you to do returns." Isn't this how you want to treat your customers?

I look forward to hearing from all the technology vendors, email marketers and government agencies that join the Begone Movement. I'll write about you. You can do this -- show me how. And I'll look forward to seeing your pledges at the home page for the Begone Movement.

Josh Bernoff is senior vice president, idea development at Forrester Research and the co-author of "Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business," a management book that teaches you how to transform your business by empowering employees to solve customer problems. He blogs at blogs.forrester.com/groundswell.
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