Ben and Jerry’s Abandon Email, and their Fans

SeeWhy – The news that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will stop sending email to their 1.3M customers is, frankly, remarkable.

What were they thinking? Are they nuts?

Their plan, announced in an email to their subscribers last week, said that they will be discontinuing email—in favor of social media. While there has been some idle speculation about whether social media will replace email, this is frankly nonsense. They are complementary channels, and understanding how to use the two together in a mutually supportive way is the key.

There are three fundamental problems with Ben and Jerry’s decision:

1. Customers choose the channels, not brands

Ben and Jerry’s subscribers opted in to their email program. They chose email as their preferred method of communication to receive news and promotions about the brand. We know from multiple studies that the number one reason for ‘friending a brand’ is to receive special deals and promotions. The same holds true for email.

ExactTarget recently published some interesting new research titled Subscribers, Fans and Followers on how consumers choose to interact with brands. When looking for promotions:

“76% of consumers will initially seek deals and promotions on a brand’s website, and from there, 62% will sign up to receive email, while 54% will use a search engine. 17% of consumers will also include Facebook as part of their quest for ongoing deals, and 3% will search for deals on Twitter.”

Cutting off their fans from their chosen communication channel is only part of the story: customers expect to be able to subscribe to email communications.

2. Social media isn’t a replacement for email

Ben and Jerry’s may have more than 1.3 million Facebook fans, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no role for email in their marketing mix.

Email is direct and proactive, and when used well, can be personal and directly relevant. The way many brands use social media is as an impersonal broadcast that relies on fans visiting their Facebook pages. Email reaches out and can reactivate fans’ interest in a brand in a way that a social network can’t. Of course, social networks also engage fans in a way that email can’t. The two are highly complimentary, and neither is a replacement for the other.

3. Just because it’s hard to measure doesn’t mean it doesn’t work

Unlike ecommerce sites, where email is the number one tool of choice for driving high quality traffic to an ecommerce website, Ben and Jerry’s don’t sell on line—the ice cream would melt. So while the quality of traffic you drive to your website may be directly correlated to your conversion rate on an ecommerce website, a conversion for Ben and Jerry’s is an in-store purchase. While you can certainly measure the use of promotion codes and vouchers in-store, it’s hard to gauge the footfall impact from an email campaign.

While Ben and Jerry’s may have financial motivation for dropping their email newsletter, perhaps they should have been focusing on how to make their newsletter altogether more relevant and tightly integrated with the social media programs, rather than killing it altogether. In time, it is likely that this decision will be reversed—email is too important a channel to ignore.

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Web analytics visionary Charles Nicholls is founder and chief strategy officer of SeeWhy and author of “Lessons Learned from the Top Ten Converting Websites” which can be downloaded here and “In Search of Insight” which has established a new agenda for the analytics industry. As a veteran of the analytics space, he has worked on strategy and projects for some of the world’s leading ecommerce companies, including Amazon, eBay and many other organizations around the globe. Incorporated in 2003, SeeWhy helps companies improve website conversion rates by bringing back up to 50 percent of visitors that abandon sites prematurely. Learn more at http://www.seewhy.com and the SeeWhy blog at http://www.seewhy.com/blog. Contact Charles at charles.nicholls@seewhy.com, and follow the company on Twitter at @seewhyinc and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SeeWhyInc.

Please feel free to publish the above commentary in full or in part with attribution according to the Creative Commons license.

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