Email: creating a low effort experience

Lately I’ve been pondering a conundrum regarding data and marketing. Consumers are concerned about businesses using their private data. They don’t trust businesses with their data when asked or given the option they often don’t want to be tracked.

At the same time however they do want relevance and timeliness in messaging. They want sales and marketing to be individually tailored to their needs, to know without asking, what they want.

Where is this contradiction coming from? Are consumers just being difficult and asking for the impossible? How should marketers act as we face the coming deluge of data and attendant privacy concerns.

This was until a conference call recently when someone dropped the phrase into the conversation that sent me into a mental spiral. The phrase was “Low Effort Experience”. We’ve heard it before but that time it caused a lightbulb to go off in my head, one of those “ah ha” moments.

He simply said that consumers are looking for a low effort experience, and he’s exactly right. It’s obvious right? That’s why confirmed opt-in (COI) aka double opt-in has such low adoption. It’s not that 50-80% of email subscriptions are false or unintended. It’s not that users aren’t smart enough to follow through, it’s that they want a low effort experience. They don’t want to have to confirm their subscription.

It’s why preference centers don’t work. Before I get lynched by those who like them, let’s be clear. A preference center isn’t a bad idea but don’t expect it to get much use.


Very few consumers will take the time to fill out the kind of detail that you want. Why? Because they want a low effort experience. They want you to figure out which content and products they’re interested in.

They want you to figure out when and how often to communicate with them. They don’t want to have to try and figure it out themselves or to have to come back and change their preferences when things change for them.

It also explains the apparent contradiction in regards to data. They care about their privacy and they’re nervous about security and companies’ motives. At the same time they don’t want to have to understand your privacy policy and what the implications are of you collecting certain data. Equally they do want you to just know what they’re looking for and when they’re looking for it.

In UX (User Experience) circles there’s a concept called friction. It’s a measure of the effort required by an interface. There are times to build it in and times to take it out but generally friction reduces the efficacy of the tool and reduces user satisfaction.

In the email world we need to find ways to ensure we reduce friction across the entire user experience. Find ways to avoid the consumer having to make decisions or at the very least make those decisions easy (frictionless). The challenge is to create a low effort experience that is seamless without being overbearing.

As an example, if you want to manage messaging frequency, rather than adding frequency as a mandatory profile question at signup or even saying “we’ve noticed you haven’t opened a message in six months would you like less frequent communications?”.

Instead, analyze user behavior to adapt frequency to response and make opting down or suspending messaging a simple option on your unsubscription page.

Similarly, instead of requesting detailed content preferences or asking for thumbs up or down to different content, identify preferences over time based on customer response behavior.

The same can be applied at subscription time. Instead of confirmed opt-in, monitor new signups for activity. If list hygiene becomes an issue never responders are the low hanging fruit for cleanup.

The specifics of friction removal will vary from campaign to campaign, but identifying where the friction lies in your email program can pay dividends.

Until next time…

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