Don’t Be Like Ned: 3 ‘Groundhog Day’ Lessons for Email Marketers

Does the name Ned Ryerson ring a bell? If you are a fan of the movie “Groundhog Day,” it does. Ned is the insurance salesman famous for his “whistling belly button trick in high school” who hounds Phil Connors, portrayed by Bill Murray.

Ned is not a sympathetic character. His quest to rekindle a past acquaintanceship so he can sell life insurance quickly reveals Ned to be an annoying, insistent, clueless, and poor salesman. When Phil ultimately socks Ned in the side of his face, it’s hard to feel that he didn’t have it coming.

Given that Friday was Groundhog Day (by the way, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which means we get six more weeks of winter), we thought we’d take this opportunity to see what we could learn from Ned and the film to apply to email marketing. We picked up three valuable lessons:

1. Get recipients’ permission before making your pitch

Ned’s most egregious sin is telling Phil things that Phil doesn’t want to hear. Repeatedly. In his quest to make a sale, he ignores Phil’s clear lack of interest – until Phil’s punch ends their final conversation.Ned is spam in human form.

In the few minutes he spends with Phil, he spouts an unrelenting stream of self-serving and unwanted messages in the direction of his prospective customer. Had Ned gotten Phil’s permission to make his pitch, his outcome would undoubtedly have been less painful, and perhaps even successful.

It’s not a stretch to find an email-marketing equivalent to this encounter. As the estimable Seth Goldin once wrote: “Just because you somehow get my email address doesn’t mean you have permission.”

Goldin describes permission marketing, a term he is credited with coining, as “the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

Permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they are actually paying you with something precious. And there’s no way they can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted.”

That’s a lesson Ned learned the hard way.

2. Make sure recipients know who they are hearing from

Ned does at least one thing right. Almost. When he approaches Phil, he goes to great lengths to convince his old classmate that they know each other; hence, Ned’s references to his “whistling belly button trick” and his senior-year case of shingles.His approach didn’t work this time.

But he was on the right track, because people are more likely to be receptive to marketing messages that come from people they know and trust. Even so, despite years of evolution in email marketing, recipients too often still find the infamous and anonymous senders named “No-reply” and “DoNotReply” turning up in their inboxes. That’s not a good thing.

“No-reply@ or DoNotReply@ sender email addresses are uninviting and unwelcome,” writes Steven MacDonald at SuperOffice. “If you send an email from one of those email addresses, don’t be surprised if your open rate is low.  Always send an email from an address your customers can reply to and be sure to include phone numbers, and links to your social profiles as well to let the customer contact you in any channel they want to.”

3. Make sure your message is about them, not you

Ned and Phil are indeed high school classmates who haven’t seen each other in many years; however, Ned makes no effort to find out what Phil’s been up to. He doesn’t ask Phil if he’s married, has children, owns a home or what he does for a living – all things that would figure into a well-thought-out life insurance proposal.

Instead, the inept salesman blathers on about on his own unusual whistling skills, his unflattering nicknames, the fact Phil wouldn’t allow him to date Phil’s sister, and the case of shingles he battled in his senior year. Even his tag to his brief insurance spiel is about him: “Am I right, or am I right, or am I right?”

The takeaway for email marketers who don’t want to be like Ned is to craft content that speaks to what your recipients need, not what you want. That means learning about your customer and providing information that is useful to them.

“Offer quality content that educates your subscribers between promotional emails,” suggests Shayla Price at Drip. “Not only will high-quality content help solve your customers’ problems, it will also build trust and establish your company as a go-to resource.”

Speaking of content, In our upcoming webinar on February 13th at 1:00pm EST, we’ll show you how we help marketers get more out of their content in their email campaigns. Save your spot now!