Do You Respect Your Subscribers?

Bowing In RespectWe often hear that permission email marketing is about building relationships. Build a relationship with subscribers, the mantra goes, and you’ll create customers for life.

Unfortunately, many email marketers don’t think about what it means to build a relationship with subscribers. They hear the mantra and believe they’re following it — but in practice they take subscribers for granted and treat them like wallets with email addresses.

Do you show your subscribers the respect they deserve?

Or do you overlook these areas of respect that help you build a quality subscriber relationship?

Respect Subscribers’ Permission

  • Have you ever been subscribed to the email list for one brand, and received an email out of the blue from another brand (that happens to be owned by the same company)?How does it feel? What do you typically do?

When people sign up to your list, they’re giving you a valuable resource: permission to email them.

However, that permission is temporary. Subscribers can revoke it at any time.

It is also specific: subscribers give a specific person (you) permission to email them a specific set of information (what they signed up for).

Respect that specific permission in your email marketing campaigns, and your subscribers will trust and respect you. Fail to respect it, though, and things can go downhill fast.

  • Send subscribers what they asked for.
  • Don’t send an email about some product or topic that subscribers have never heard you talk about before and expect them to see the connection.If you want to introduce content or products that are not perfectly related to what subscribers signed up for, go slowly and deliberately.

Respect Subscribers’ Privacy

Subscribers are your #1 asset as an email marketer.

And yet, some companies permit others to email their subscribers (even though subscribers almost never want this – regardless of whether they were aware that would happen when they signed up).

Others don’t remove unsubscribes in a timely fashion (this isn’t a problem at email marketing solutions like AWeber, where we automatically process unsubscribes for you – but it can be a problem for others who manage their email campaigns manually).

This foolish disrespect of subscribers’ privacy not only hurts those companies’ reputation, it makes people less likely to trust others with their email addresses.

Once you’ve earned subscribers’ trust enough for them to sign up, be part of the solution. Respect subscribers’ privacy.

  • Don’t share subscribers’ information with others. Subscribers signed up to get emails from you, not from some other company.
  • Remove unsubscribes promptly (or just use AWeber and we’ll handle that for you).

Respect Subscribers’ Time

You might not be charging subscribers money to be on your list, but don’t be fooled: a subscription to your list is not “free.”

It costs subscribers time to:

  1. Stop
  2. Open your email
  3. Read the content inside
  4. Decide what to do with that information

Those costs are significant, because your subscribers are busy people and their time is valuable.

Subscribers sign up to your list because they feel that the benefits they will get from your emails will exceed those costs.

If you’re not delivering relevant, valuable content, you’re telling your subscribers that you don’t think their time is valuable. That’s disrespectful, and a sure-fire way to make them unsubscribe.

  • Make sure that next email you’re sending is worth (far) more to subscribers than the time it takes them to read it.

Respect Subscribers, And They’ll Respect You

And that’s the first step to any successful relationship.

UPDATE 1/12/09: Andrew Kordek (who runs Sears’ email marketing program) shares his thoughts on subscriber respect. Good stuff.


  1. Grant Waldman

    12/16/2008 11:29 am

    I reach out to my list to provide them with insights and things to consider. They can unsubscribe at any time. If they like what I have to say, they continue to accept my emails.

  2. Guy

    12/16/2008 11:32 am


    This is never truer than if someone is building an MLM business. Sending people to products directly rather than valuable information related to the niche is simply not a good idea.

    That’s the very reason I base on providing valuable information about healthy chocolate rather than pushing for the sale.

    Something else I try to do is keep my Enews short and sweet, rather than robbing my customers blind of their time. They will only allow me to do that so long before they unsubscribe.

  3. Hannah McNamara

    12/16/2008 11:44 am

    Great tips. I guess it’s all about balance. Making sure that there’s a balance of relevant, informative and interesting content and commercial messages.

    I spent a few years working in magazine advertising and found that people really switch off when all they see are ads (even in a free publication which is funded by advertising). It does need balancing with good editorial otherwise people stop reading and then miss messages that they might be interested in because they’ve stopped caring!

  4. Habib Wicks

    12/16/2008 11:47 am

    Thanks for your help earlier today and for posting this. Very helpful information.

  5. Tobias Fransson

    12/16/2008 12:12 pm

    Great Article that I hope that everyone reading it will follow

    Although not new I never EVER send out a un related product
    promotion because it would be like selling potatoes to people that
    are hard core tomato eaters.

    It just hurts my credibility and wouldn’t be profitable.

    What you can do is send out a humble message saying that I have
    this great tomato receipt that really brings out a great flavor
    in the potato and if you are interested you can sign up for some great
    free tomato receipts by clicking the linking and follow the instructions at the site.

    In essence allowing your subscribers to raise their hands and say
    Yes please! I want more information about X product that is un related.

    You naturally would own that List that the Potato lover in this case
    would subscribe to and it allows you to repeat the process
    of over delivering great valuable content and build up the relationship and trust again.

    This should go quicker since they already know you like you and trust…

    Again, nothing new but is still highly useful for the new Email Marketer
    out there…

  6. Johnnie Green

    12/16/2008 12:33 pm

    I have always wonder when not to send anything a subscriber don’t want. I like aweber because when a subscribe don’t want to hear from you they automatic remove them from list. I also found one of the biggest problem that when a subscriber opt-in that more than one person send them e-mail from the company and that’s hurts.

  7. Matt

    12/16/2008 3:20 pm

    This is a very good point. I never refer to my subscribers as "leads". I like every aspect of my marketing to be personal, as if I know everyone on it personally.

    Also a big part of respecting your subscribers is not OVERLOADING them with information.

    Offer good content, but in portions….not pallets.

  8. C.K. Ow Yong

    12/16/2008 3:51 pm

    totally agree! i’m on quite a few people’s list… and it sucks when every email they send contains an affiliate link (the same one!) in the middle, end and footnote.

    i don’t blog very often (less than once a month!)… but when i do, i make sure that it’s packed with value… and then some more in the email broadcast to make sure that they get what they want (instead of a sales copy).

    list is small(1300+), but at least i’m sure they are happy :O)

  9. Brian

    12/16/2008 4:18 pm

    Has anyone tried to build a "cliff hanger" in an email sequence?
    In the course of delivering great content, make reference to next week’s message. Build curiosity and excitement.
    Tell them that the rest of the story is coming in next week’s email …. and give title of the next email message. This may boost open rates … what do you think? Been done? Does it work?

  10. Jonathan

    12/16/2008 6:34 pm

    Hey Brian!

    Mark Widawer did this today in an email I got from him… he took the first few sentences of a blog post (might be being done with Aweber’s blog posting) and posted it into an email, with a cliffhanger, and then said "click here to read the rest of this post."

    It totally got me to click through to the blog post.

    Not a time-delayed thing but definitely got me to read more. I would also be interested in seeing if anyone has tried a time delayed cliffhanger…

  11. Josh Richards

    12/16/2008 7:59 pm


    Many folks offer mini e-courses using follow-up/autoresponder sequences. That’s, effectively, what those are. One of the goals with those, besides staying "top of mind" over the course of several days/weeks, is that the subscriber is more likely to provide a valid regularly checked e-mail address (i.e. their primary one versus some throw away one they use on landing/squeeze pages offering free stuff for their email addy). Thus boosting open rates.

    Presumably if the content is informative, targeted, requested, and clearly offered as part of a series then open rates should be higher, yes. One of the keys though is making it is clear when the subscriber, uh, subscribes that things will be sequenced (e.g. an e-course mini-series). Otherwise they may provide a rarely checked email address or, worse, a complete throw away one.

  12. N

    12/16/2008 11:17 pm

    Respecting your subscribers is certainly very important. It’s better to focus on building a strong relationship with your subscribers, rather than targetting them solely as a way to make money. Treat them well and they’ll treat you well.

  13. Jimmy James

    12/17/2008 1:04 am

    Great points here. I can’t beleive there are still people who don’t respect MY unsubscribe requests and continue to email me anyways.

    Not only do they lose a prospective JV partner but they also lose any type of business they could have expected from me.

    There are some big name marketers doing this, too, which surprises me, but the marketers who send me relevant information via email are the ones whose list I neve runsunscribe from anyways, so it does all start with Respect, and sending information I/we/they want.

    Thanks for the great reminder

  14. Tobias Fransson

    12/17/2008 1:36 am

    One thing I did last evening for two of my repeat blog readers and blog newsletter subscribers was to introduce them to eachother since both are in the jewlary business.

    They were so grateful and happy that I helped them out and both of them will get Aweber through me in January next year.

    So that is one way that you can give even more value to your readers.

    Perhaps you can have a couple e-mails focusing solely on getting your readers hooked up with eachother?

    Like make a broadcast about a form of electronical "Mingle Event"
    were the interested subscribers can reply with what they work with.

    By doing so they would also give permission to get their e-mail adress shared with other in the same type of business.

    Can also be interest based etc.

    What do you guys think about such an idea?

  15. Hannah McNamara

    12/17/2008 4:11 am

    Brian, I’ve done this with a short daily autoresponder series (approx 7 messages) and it’s worked pretty well in capturing people’s attention. You know, "Look out for tomorrow’s message which reveals…" I’m not sure how well it would work for a weekly message as people are so busy they may not remember what you’d talked about the previous week. Anyone else tried this and got any comments? I’d be interested to hear.

  16. Do You Respect Your Subscribers? « The Scrappy Email Marketer

    12/17/2008 4:23 am

    […] 17, 2008 by thescrappyemailmarketer Justin over at AWeber has a great post on respecting those the decide to subscribe to you sending them email. In short, you need to […]

  17. Mark Brownlow

    12/17/2008 4:29 am

    "they take subscribers for granted and treat them like wallets with email addresses"

    Nice one Justin: I love that phrase "wallets with email addresses." So true unfortunately.

  18. Wendy Leal

    12/17/2008 2:15 pm

    So many internet marketers take their subscribers for granted. Especially those involved in a BIG release.. the next big JV venture… it makes me sick. All pushing the next big thing hoping to make a buck. 10 emails from different people all pushing the same thing. Unsubscribe, Unsubscibe, Unsubscribe!!

    People sign up for your newsletter so you can HELP THEM in some way. They visited your website and signed up for your list for what YOU had to offer THEM.

    Fortunately I am in the service industry and focused on one company and I take pride in offering my subscribers information that they want.

    When was the last time you contacted your subscribers asking them what THEY wanted?

  19. Justin Premick

    12/17/2008 5:02 pm

    LOVING everyone’s feedback here. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts!


    I do the "cliffhanger" a lot – it’s a nice way to set expectations for when subscribers will hear from you next, and what they’ll learn/read about in that next email.

    I don’t reveal the subject line of the upcoming email though. Might not be a bad idea to test that… thanks!

  20. Jason Parker

    12/17/2008 7:17 pm

    Good article.

    I also want to add, however, that many marketers may read this and be mislead. Because it’s important to be aggressive in sales I believe. Otherwise you won’t sell one darn thing!

  21. Farid

    12/17/2008 10:51 pm

    Thanks for reminding us Justin.

    I think with the changes we see lately in internet marketing, internet
    users are getting smarter and wiser when it comes to shopping online.

    Even if you have a newsletter within a certain micro-niche outside the
    "making money online" niche, your subscribers are getting smarter
    and more careful to respond to any "recommendation" they receive.

    So, our best option (and has been the best for many years and will be
    the best for years to come) is to build credibility. And the only way to
    do that is to give our subscribers Educating, Enlightening or
    Entertaining content every time.


    I want to know based on your experience… which is better:

    Give a FREE report in PDF
    Give Autoresponder series

    to make your visitors opt-in?

    And I’m talking about the "making money online" niche.
    Anyone? Justin?

  22. Tobias Fransson

    12/18/2008 10:40 am


    Giving away a free PDF holds more percieved
    value then just doing a follow up sequence.

    However if you mention it as a free Course
    that could also work and you deliver
    that as a follow up sequence

    Or why not do both?

  23. Buddy

    12/18/2008 1:07 pm

    I just subscribed to a list that promised information and resources but kept sending me to adsense pages. When I tried to remove myself from the list it wouldn’t let me. Obviously not thinking about a relationship. 🙂

    Rich Schefren does a really good job of cliff hanger emails to get people back to his blog if anyone wants examples.

  24. Bob Ellis

    12/18/2008 7:20 pm

    If dealing with Subscription Websites, I would say that Customer Retention is more important than Customer Attraction. Be sure to interact with your customers throughout the subscription cycle, not just towards the end, when expecting a renewal. I want the customers of to experience "personal" attention. I look forward to making the most of AWeber’s capabilities to satisfy this requirement.

    And I appreciate the personal approach to AWeber! It is really exceptional!

  25. Tobias Fransson

    12/19/2008 9:22 am

    Bob, that is so true.

    By focusing on customer retention and really over delivering them you will in the long run end up with more customer due to "word by mouth". I am in the process of creating my first product and subscription membership site and

    over delivering and caring for my subscribing member is a major intention for me.

    Using Aweber I have been able to not only leverage technology to do a lot of the re-occuring work for me but also take underlying principles and create a power educational system.

  26. Hannah McNamara

    12/19/2008 10:29 am

    Bob and Tobias, I SO agree with you about over delivering.

    Some people say you should let the autoresponder do all the work and never engage in one on one emails with the people on your list, you know the ‘don’t reply to this message as it’s from an unmonitored address’ type of email.

    OK, so I probably create more work for myself, but I always give a real email address as the ‘reply to’ address and invite people to respond to emails. A few weeks ago in my newsletter I told the story of how my laptop failing nearly ruined my business and asked people to reply with ‘IDEAS’ in the subject line to tell me what they think I should do. It had a great response and when they got a personal reply from me it reinforced that I was a real person. Plus I got a whole bunch of new ideas from people who cared enough about what I was doing in my business to want to help.

    But I suppose that’s what being there for your customers is all about and it does work both ways. Sometimes they’re there for you too.

    On a slightly different note (but it is related!):

    Justin, gotta give you a mention now. Recently I had a problem with aweber (not aweber’s fault, it was to do with a norton update). I sent Justin a DM on Twitter and had a response almost immediately followed up by a personal email. Within a short space of time and a couple of emails back and forth the problem was solved. Yay for Justin! THAT impressed me. Especially as I had a really important email campaign that was waiting to go out!

  27. Happy subsriber

    1/17/2009 10:22 am

    I am your subsriber and I must say I really love your articles. They are really helpfull so what I am trying to say.. .Keep on the good work.

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  29. Kenneth Young

    4/28/2010 9:31 am

    Well this is a topic I could comment on all day as so many marketers today whether it be online or offline do not respect customers as a whole.

    We marketers have to realize that our email subscribers or customers in the offline world are our most valuable asset to our business. These people are the backbone of our business and without them we will only have empty space.

    When the email subscriber says no I do not want to be on your list anymore then that means no. I have not developed a list yet however when I start this process I intend to live by the golden rule and that is "The Customer is King" and that means I will respect each and every one of my customers.

  30. PP

    6/4/2010 10:20 pm

    Treat your subscribers well, like you would like to be treated and they will stay your subscriber. Try to use them and well you know, they won’t stay subscribers long.

    I don’t use AWeber yet, but I’m reading up and like what I see here. I will be a customer before long.

  31. PP

    2/12/2011 1:52 pm

    Treat your subscribers well, like you would like to be treated and they will stay your subscriber. Try to use them and well you know, they won’t stay subscribers long.

    I don’t use AWeber yet, but I?m reading up and like what I see here. I will be a customer before long.