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If there's one thing that drives me absolutely mad it's when I sign up to a website or an app and they send me emails without my consent to either "remind" me to use their product more often or give me "fascinating" information about their product's features.

My question is, despite this practice being extremely annoying for people like me, is there evidence that shows that it's actually an effective way to get the average person to use new features, or to get him/her to return to the site or application more frequently? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

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  • All I know is that I find it unusual that a certain check printing company reminds me twice a month that it is time to reorder checks. News flash: I use 25 checks a year. I pay attention to the spam emails that come at a reasonable rate; depending on the product/service. – Mark Stewart Jan 11 '15 at 6:33
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    Like with anything, if it didn't work they wouldn't be doing it. – Wander Jan 11 '15 at 11:04
  • One of the many rules/tips&tricks for not getting your mail server blacklisted is to try and send emails at a reasonable and consistent interval. Unexpected spikes in email can get you blacklisted so the recurring and useless emails is just their attempt at not getting blacklisted. Basically, the benefit of not being blacklisted outweighs the cost of annoying you; probably by a huge margin. – MonkeyZeus Jan 12 '15 at 19:21
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    @Wander - I'm not too sure. I don't get many emails from Google telling me that I haven't connected to Picasa in a while for example, or that I haven't used their cloud software. I'm curious as to if there's a real benefit, or people do it because everybody else is. – Levi Botelho Jan 13 '15 at 12:50
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    @Wander - except that it is famously difficult to tell what effect, if any, your advertising is happening. So in the absence of a study, and with the anecdotal evidence at hand, I tend to think it's more likely that those doing so have no idea whether it helps. – Michael Kohne Feb 12 '15 at 13:32
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This is where UX and marketing will come into conflict with each other. The marketing people will correctly claim that it tends to measurably improve revenue, while the UX people will correctly claim that causes potential clients to either leave a site or builds a poor association with the company, which lowers revenue.

So how can they both be correct? In my experience it stems from the fact that the marketers tend to consider short term metrics, while the UX people tend to consider more medium to long term metrics. There has to be a balance between engagement and usability. Too much engagement = annoyance. Too little engagement = poor revenue.

TL;DR: Yes, it works in the short term, but if you do it in the long term the negative consequences may outweigh the benefits.

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First, you can think about the psychology of forming habits (Nir Eyal, BJ Fogg's model) that explains that triggering an action into somebody's mind increases the chances of conversion. If you remind people, they are more likely to visit your website.

Secondly, I want to quote the study by Freedman and Fraser (see ref below) that explains how people first reluctant to accomplishing a task become more willing to do it when used to the action.

Last, sending emails allows you to do basic marketing tasks such as brand building. It's a good way to gather data on your customers and your audience as well as building yourself a brand name.

Freedman & Fraser: Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C., Compliance Without Pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique, JPSP, 1966, 4, 196-202

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Once I, the service provider, get in a 2 way conversation with you, the user, the chances you buying my service increase dramatically. This is from my experience, but there are a lot of studies demonstrating that engaging the user helps.

That being said, it's easy to exaggerate with the number of mails, to annoy users. Hell, some users marked as spam the validation mail. And after a certain point, i guess services consider they have nothing to lose if they send you more mails: you're not buying anyway, so if you leave they're not going to lose anything. If a fraction of those they send emails end up buying, math says it's worth it.

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  • Except promotional HTML email with every link tracked and a 1x1 gif to see whether I opened the mail doesn't qualify as a "conversation" for me, and I assume that's the case for most people here. On the other hand, a basic two line plaintext email does. – user42730 Jan 13 '15 at 12:28
  • you are right, if that's your case. i was talking about legitimate mail people tend to classify as "SPAM". – Bobby Tables Jan 13 '15 at 12:53

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