Threadless’ Frequency Alert: Hot or Not?

Did your New Year’s resolution involve overhauling your email marketing campaign?

Maybe you resolved to get on the ball and send more often. Or maybe you suspect you’ve been overwhelming your readers, so you plan to send less.

Either way, you’ve got some decisions to make. Do you tell your readers to expect the change in frequency? If you do, where, when and how do you tell them?

Let’s take a look at how Threadless handled a recent frequency change. Would you do things the same way?

The Announcement

When Threadless increased their frequency from 2 emails per week to 3, they let subscribers know.

Better Off Alone?

There’s a lot going on in this message, with the swirling vortex and all. Many readers may have skipped right over that lovely yellow box. Should Threadless have announced the change in a separate email?

Pro: A statement that arrived solo would be sure to be seen. Plus, it would become the natural topic for the subject line, so subscribers could observe the addition even without opening the message.

Con: On the other hand, giving the announcement such serious real estate might annoy some readers. They signed up for these emails to see fun t-shirts, and they get a schedule announcement? Disapproval or even unsubscribes could result if the message doesn’t meet their expectations.

Knowledge Is Power…Too Much Power?

The box gave the facts about the extra emails, then gave readers the option to decline them. Should Threadless have forgone that second step?

Pro: With the veto power granted here, subscribers can control which messages they receive. (You can do this for your own subscribers, if you like.) This gives them a sense of ownership over their subscription, which may mean they’ll appreciate these emails more.

Con: But what if they choose to opt out of the extra emails? Will Threadless miss out on potential sales? And what if readers evaluate their preferences and decide, “Actually, I’ll just unsubscribe?”

Out? In? Which Way to Opt?

Notice that readers were invited to opt out of the extra emails, not into them. For general list subscription, that’s widely considered a bad practice. How about for frequency changes?

Pro: Subscribers who don’t open the message, see the box or change their preferences will start getting the extra emails, giving Threadless more opportunities to persuade them to buy.

Con: For those subscribers, the extra messages will appear seemingly without request or warning. If they notice, and if they mind, they may feel annoyed and unsubscribe.

How Do You Change Frequency?

Have you ever changed how often you send your marketing emails? Did you let subscribers know beforehand?

Did you offer them the option to choose which frequency they’d prefer, perhaps by switching lists?

How else could you handle the situation?


  1. peter chapman

    2/8/2011 12:31 pm

    I need to come here more often. This post is enlightening on how I can use my AWeber to greater effect.

    Will definitely be around a lot more from today. Thanks for the post and look forward to witnessing a lot more great stuff.

  2. cj

    2/8/2011 1:52 pm

    Comes a little late for me after I sent out some special issues of my email newsletter, on top of the regular monthly ones, over the past week.

    From the beginning I always had in mind sending out ad hoc issues for special announcements, but until a few weeks ago hadn’t really thought about when I might need to actually do it.

    My newsletter is mostly that – a news service – it’s not selling anything, but the people who advertise with me probably appreciate the extra exposure they’re getting. The ad hoc issues also enabled me to feature additional adverts that I’d received since I sent out the last regular newsletter (end of January), so as well as the ongoing special news interest, there was new content among the adverts, too.

    It might have been useful to include some kind of opt out box in the last regular issue had I known about this feature, and better anticipated my need for the special issues. Still, there’s always next time!

  3. Lydia Sugarman

    2/8/2011 4:12 pm

    Very informative article. I like the way you addressed each section and enumerated the Pros and Cons. Helps make it easier for people to evaluate Threadless’s choices relative to their own emails.

    The only thing that was missing was a brief examination of the Threadless audience. They tend to skew young and are accustomed to a lot going on, so I think the design using vortex was a great choice and for me, actually served to focus on the yellow box immediately below. It was almost as if it was spotlighted.

  4. Andy Moose

    2/8/2011 6:37 pm

    Good post, and good questions too. For my lists, I’ve been up front that letters would arrive “almost daily”.
    Works for me, and them.

    Funny thing is, if I go more than a few days between emails, I get asked what’s the holdup?

  5. Michael

    2/8/2011 9:40 pm

    When I was reading the newsletter above I got a feeling of ownership when I read the bit about having the option of opting in or out. It was profound.

    Suddenly the relationship goes from “I’m at the mercy of this sender” to “This is my newsletter and I own and control it.” So many companies these days are treating their customers like an open mouth they can shove in whatever they want.

    I think it might be productive to change the way I think of subscribers from “newsletter subscribers” to “newsletter owners,” each person owning their own subscription and having control over it.

    I think this attitude of service is appreciated by people who will reward you with their attention.

  6. Nathan Scheer

    2/9/2011 7:08 pm


    How does this work with the new FCC weird stuff? You know I’ll make money on this blah blah type of stuff that’s gotta happen now…

  7. Aurelien Amacker

    2/10/2011 4:06 pm

    Interesting topic and good info (as usual on the aweber blog), but to me something’s missing here.

    Eventually, what is the percentage of subscribers who opted out of the frequency change ? My guess is it wasn’t too high.

    I hope you’ll get back to us to reveal the stats.

  8. Amanda Gagnon

    2/14/2011 9:24 am

    CJ ~ Yes, there is always next time.

    Andy ~ Yes. As always, being up front is best.

    Aurelien ~ You’d have to ask Threadless what the stats were, since this is their campaign. Those would be nice to know, though!

    Nathan ~ I’m not sure exactly which stuff you mean – clarify?

    Michael ~ “Newsletter owners” – a very interesting idea. I feel like it would work well. 🙂