Don't Punish Your Customers For Opting Out Of Your Email Marketing Campaign

This morning I received a marketing email from Hertz car rental. Marketing emails are fine but in this case, I simply don’t rent nearly enough cars to warrant registering in one of their rewards program. Somehow I had gotten on Hertz’s email marketing list and I wanted out…now.  But it seemed as though the marketing team at Hertz had other plans for my desired unsubscription. This is where I quickly changed from “Matt the happy Hertz customer” to “Matt the happy Enterprise or Alamo or Dollar or [other car rental company here] customer.”

It all started off so well

I had just taken a two week vacation driving all across Italy, and upon my return it seems that Hertz wanted to reward me for my patronage by offering me 250 of their “bonus points” if I registered for their Gold Plus Rewards program. Typical email marketing stuff. I had had an excellent experience with Hertz over in Italy, despite the fact that the massive American super-sized car that they assigned to us completely dwarfed all the tiny Italian smart cars, Vespas and other toy-sized vehicles that are ubiquitous throughout the country.  Not to mention the fact that American-sized behemoth cars are ill suited for the extremely narrow, winding roads that carve through the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast.
So the car handled well, the Hertz folks were pleasant and helpful during the initial rental, and returning the car at the Marco Polo Airport’s Hertz lot was a breeze. I was a happy Hertz customer and would probably rent a car from them again, which is a pretty significant feat for any company, considering I’m brand agnostic when it comes to things like car rentals. I usually select based on price–so the cheapest vehicle with 4 wheels will do.  I don’t need to travel in style–I just need to cart myself from point A to point B.

The email follow up

Whether you’re a car rental company, a hotel or any other business, email marketing can be a great way to reach your customers.  They can inform customers about special offers, discounts, policy changes, company improvements, new features, helpful tips or other useful information relevant to the business.  In Hertz’s case, their email offered me some loyalty points in exchange for registering for their rewards program.


But here’s where Hertz took a wrong turn with their marketing.

How did I end up on this marketing list?

First of all, I never recall providing my email address to Hertz for the purposes of marketing.  Now, I know that I had to provide them with my email address as part of the rental process, but it seems I must have overlooked the fine print about how they can use my information to market to me. Bad move. I, like many folks, do not like being auto-enrolled in various marketing campaigns. If you want to add me to your distribution list, ask me.  If I write my email address on a rental form, then have a checkbox next to my email address that says “Check this box if you’d like to receive special offers from our company.” If I like your company enough and use your products/services frequently then I will check the box.  If I’m not interested then I won’t check the box. As a business, it’s probably in your best interest to ask first because sending me unsolicited emails is likely a recipe for aggravation anyway.

Ugh. So, I fell into your marketing trap. Now how do I get out of it?

Ok fine. Hertz tricked me into signing up for their email campaign. Shame on me for not reading the unintelligible legalese in 5 point font. While I hate receiving unwanted emails, at least most companies give their customers an easy out: the unsubscribe link.  Ah yes, the unsubscribe link! The last hope a company has in redeeming themselves. You’ve forced me onto your marketing list, but for the love of all things holy, please let me go without a struggle. In the best scenario, which is, fortunately, more common these days, unsubscribing can be achieved with one click. The customer clicks the unsubscribe link in their email and it automatically opens a browser window that simply says that you’re no longer on their list. Problem solved.
Unfortunately, some email programs make it more difficult to unsubscribe than a single click of the mouse. Sometimes clicking the unsubscribe link takes you to a webpage that requires that you uncheck a subscription box, retype your email address to confirm that it is indeed you who is unsubscribing, or sometimes you may have to log into your online account with the company in order to change your settings. All of these are frustrating for the user who just wants to escape the clutches of your marketing campaign. One-click is all it should take to opt-out of unwanted email subscriptions.
Hertz, on the other hand, decided it would rather make its customers jump through a few hoops before they let them have their freedom.  My first clue to the challenge that lay ahead of me was this friendly little paragraph at the bottom of their marketing email:

To stop receiving any electronic mail message from The Hertz Corporation and its subsidiaries, the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or solicitation of a commercial product or service, please paste this address into your browser:

That statement was clearly written by a lawyer. It is very formal and cumbersome, and it doesn’t get to the point quickly or make it easy for the consumer to unsubscribe. The entire 39-word sentence could have easily been replaced with, “Click here to unsubscribe,” and the same goal would have been achieved.
Compare Hertz’s message with the simplified version found on the MailChimp email marketing system:

This email was sent to [email protected]
why did I get this? | unsubscribe from this list | update subscription preferences

I removed the links from the excerpt above, but if I were to click the 3 underlined items they would take me to various options:  I can find out why I received this email; I can unsubscribe from this list; Or I can update my subscription preferences.
If I’m ready to be done with this company once and for all, I can click the “unsubscribe from this list” link and this simple message pops up to greet me:


This is perfect! One click to unsubscribe and it’s over. No long, drawn out, painful goodbyes. I’ve made up my mind to leave and the company has opened the exit door for me. This is the way good email marketing should be done. No hassle. No frustration. No contempt for a company that tries to lock their customers into their email distribution lists. And, if I’m so inclined, I can explain my reason for unsubscribing by completing the optional survey.

Trying to escape

So, after receiving the Hertz loyalty reward email, I have decided to unsubscribe from Hertz emails altogether. I’ve parsed through the legalese in my Hertz promotional email and I’ve clicked the unsubscribe link. That’s when this eyesore flashes onto my screen:


It appears that Hertz, in an effort retain their email distribution list, has provided a 5-part unsubscribe form in hopes that customers will simply give up from exhaustion.  Let me break down for you the problems I have with this form:

  1. The title of this form is just awkward: “Control your receipt of email.” Why not just call it “Email Preferences” or “Email Subscription”? This is already starting off down the wrong road.
  2. Worse yet, it’s an entire form…to unsubscribe! I just want out.  If other companies can unsubscribe me in one click, surely a huge company like Hertz (and apparently its subsidiaries) should be able to do it as well.
  3. There is so much text.  If I’m already so frustrated with your email communication that I want out now, don’t make this painful for me by forcing me to read 10 paragraphs of text.  The only words I should have to read are, “You have been successfully unsubscribed.”
  4. In part A, why do I have to enter my email address twice? Most people don’t go around unsubscribing other people just for the hell of it.
  5. In part B, there are two check boxes. I think I’m supposed to check the first box, but maybe I should check the second box too? But then it asks for my rewards number… If I don’t have a rewards number, should I check it or uncheck it? Again, very vague instructions which makes it confusing to successfully unsubscribe.
  6. Part C is only relevant to travel agents, which doesn’t pertain to me, so why is it even being displayed. If I unknowingly check this box and click submit I receive an error message. More confusion.
  7. Part D makes a similar statement to Part B. Why do I have to check both boxes to unsubscribe if they seem to have the same purpose? Duplicate effort, and more time wasted.
  8. Finally, the entire form is just not written in a user-friendly, customer tone. As I read this I feel as though I’m signing a contract. I’m no longer a customer. Hertz has made me feel like a threat by trying to cover all their liabilities with their legalese. Customers hate reading this crap. Write to me as though you’re writing to another human being. The last paragraph (part E) highlights this confusing legal jargon perfectly. I really had to think about whether or not the information I was about to submit was being done in “good faith for purposes of accomplishing the foregoing.”  “Accomplishing the foregoing”?

The consequences of trapping your customers

As a consumer, I should not have had to go through all of these unnecessary hurdles just to avoid being hassled with unwanted emails. If you run a company that uses emails to market to your customers, then remember to keep the consumer’s best interests in mind throughout the entire email marketing campaign. Making it as cumbersome as possible for your customers to gracefully exit your marketing messages is not a way to grow customer databases.
We never recommend that our hotel clients purchase email distributions lists for a similar reason: those people didn’t sign up to receive emails from your business. They are unqualified. And while purchasing email addresses from marketing companies can certainly inflate the size of your email distribution lists, you are ultimately marketing your company to disinterested people who may not even be familiar with your product. Making it hard for those users to then exit your marketing trap only compounds the damage you’re ultimately doing to your brand reputation. And in the world of online social sharing, your reputation can change in a heartbeat.
If you present your customers with the option to join your email distribution list (rather than forcing them onto your email list) and if you give them an easy way to opt out of your marketing campaigns, you will prevent that person from going from a disinterested customer to a frustrated and angry former customer–and one who is now looking to your competitor as the more accommodating option. Trapping your customers is never a good solution. It only pisses them off. As the saying goes: if it’s truly love, set it free; and if it returns you’ll know it was meant to be. And so it goes with your customers.
So Hertz, thanks for my travels throughout Italy, but this is the last time you’ll be taking me for a ride. We’d love to hear your thoughts on email marketing for hotels or other travel/hospitality related businesses. What are your successes and failures with it? What do you like or dislike? Please leave a comment below.

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