There are times when saying “Thank you” is appropriate. When the person in front of you holds a door open, you should be appreciative. When you receive a gift, Thank you is totally fine. Expected, even. If you don’t say that, if you don’t express gratitude, you’re indicating a supreme lack of character or knowledge about the world. And unless you’re 3 years old, claiming that you didn’t know what to do isn’t going to cut it.
But there are other situations when Thank you isn’t right. Even worse, Thank you so much has become my pet peeve. I’ll leave that for another time, because right now I’d like to expand on why saying Thank you is sometimes inappropriate, and may even be confusing your audience. Paradoxically, this may be one of reasons you’re seeing lower engagement and ultimately poorer results than you may be able to achieve.
The thing is, that audience likely doesn’t even recognize what’s going on, because it’s not so obvious. It’s pretty subtle.
The biggest problem right now with Thank you is that people and businesses are using it at the wrong time. Where is it most wrong? [Wrongest? Incorrectest? Least right? Whatever.] Ironically, it’s most wrong in the place it shows up the most these days: In an autoresponder.
Now, if you’re like I think you are, you probably just said, “Wait, what?” Allow me to explain.
But first, let me back up. Just a little.
What Is An Autoresponder?
You’ve seen the list-building tool which is a [SIGN UP FOR OUR MAILING LIST] button on virtually all websites. I think it’s something like 99.9% of the websites in the world have this option. You put your name and e-mail address into a couple of boxes, click a button, and you’re good to go.
Now, the company presenting the website has your e-mail address, and they use this to send you an e-mail automatically. It’s responding to your action of giving up your address, and it happens automatically. Thus, autoresponder.
Very rarely is it an altruistic gesture on your part to give up your e-mail address. You’ve done it because you want something – perhaps some cryptocurrency trading tips, or a special report on the future of self-cleaning clothes. Whatever that thing is, it’s billed as a fair and open transaction: you signed up, the company (or the individual) send you a message, and you both are supposed to go on about your day.
You Don’t Like Autoresponders?
That’s not what I’m saying. I’m talking about the message that those autoresponders are sending to your clients. And in this case, the message is not the left-to-right words on the page. It’s not even the e-mail newsletter or publication list itself. I’m talking, specifically, those first Thank you for signing up messages that everyone uses. Because they present a different immediate image than was intended.
These e-mail newsletters are, on the surface, supposed to be ways for the audience to stay informed, or to get specific [insert business here] tips, or ideas to spark joy, or something like that.
In reality, the businesses are using these lists to create additional brand loyalty, or to drive a potential sale, or to add you to the funnel for future sales. They don’t tell you that, but that is what’s happening.
They often look like this: (I’m paraphrasing from one in my e-mail inbox right now. I’m going to change the details a little bit so I don’t sour the relationship with this guy :-/)
Thanks again for subscribing to our [business type] tip e-newsletter.
Keep watching for more helpful hints over the next couple of weeks. You’ll get a message every Thursday.
So, if you’re a rational person, you’re wondering how can I possibly have a problem with that? It’s polite, it’s not pushy and asking for a sale too quickly, it’s a fast response from the time of sign-up (virtually instantaneous!) so the audience doesn’t forget what they’ve done, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space in my mind. Quick, easy, simple, what could be wrong with that?
I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that.
He [generic he, insert “she” for any females who do similar actions] said Thanks.
Is That A Problem?
Yeah. I think it is.
Remember, when you say Thank you, you recognize that someone else has done something for your benefit. Holding the door; picking up dropped books; giving you the best orgasm you ever had. You, the recipient of the action, feel better for the experience. And so you respond in the only appropriate way: you say Thank you.
In this situation, an e-mail list owner saying Thank you for signing up is giving the impression that the action was done for the e-mail list owner’s benefit.
Not for the benefit of the one who signed up!
This is cognitive dissonance at its best: the action and reaction aren’t part of the same sequence. Action: sign up for a list to receive tips about [whatever business]. Reaction: instead of getting tips, get sold products through that list (or corresponding actions, like phone calls, direct mail, etc.). At least, that’s the impression your audience is receiving, when you present the image that their sign-up benefited you.
Now, I’m not advocating that you shouldn’t use an e-mail list. Frankly, it can be a pretty powerful tool, given appropriate list selection, message, timing, offer, etc.
And I’m not advocating to eliminate your autoresponder. Both are valuable.
Provided, that is, your audience doesn’t feel like they’ve been deceived. If they get that dissonant experience, they’ll likely start building a subconscious picture of you as a deceiver. Not one that they could put into words, but just a feeling they have.
And, to be frank, most people won’t recognize it. Not on the surface, anyway. It’s going to go much deeper than that. Something just doesn’t sit right with them when they receive your e-mails. Perhaps they don’t open them, or if they do, only open every so often. Why?
Well, if you ask that audience, they might say, “I’m too busy.” Or, “It’s too long.” Maybe even “I get so much already, I don’t have time to read something else!” Well, then, I’d ask, Why did you sign up for the e-mail in the first place? And what changed?
The original sign-up was to get tips and tricks for [whatever] business. What changed was the perception of that business from one that wanted to educate me and give me tips, to one that wanted to sell to me. Thus my disengagement and disinterest with your e-newsletter.
What Does That Mean?
At the simplest, it means that people who actually do sign up for your e-mail list will immediately get the impression that what they’ve done is for your benefit, not theirs. That attitude will persist throughout their life on your list. And because that’s their perception, they’ll be less likely to stay on the list… less likely to buy… less likely to tell someone else about it.
In short, saying Thank you at this point is completely wrong, because it turns the focus back to the company, rather than keeping it squarely on the audience.
So, What Should We Do Differently?
Well, there’s nothing wrong with being polite. And there’s nothing wrong with selling someone through your list. But just be clear about the intentions up-front. Don’t act with a bait-and-switch mentality.
That means that instead of thanking them for signing up for the list, congratulate them. And perhaps it’s not so obvious as “Congratulations, you could be a winner!” That’s just as false. But there are plenty of other ways to think about the customer’s perspective in that action, and acknowledge it in a way that matches their intention.
It could be as simple as only a few words of revision that are needed. Maybe it’s as easy as rewriting the example from above as:
You’ve done a good thing today. The [business type] tips you’ll receive every Thursday will help you [do that business better].
Can you see how it’s a subtle shift? Thank you puts the emphasis on the business as the beneficiary. Turning it around with You’ve done a good thing is consistent with what the signer-upper thought they were doing, and keeps the action and reaction in the same line.
This consistency is likely to lead to greater reader open rates… greater engagement… higher reputation… and, ultimately, a better-performing list.
Give it a try. Change up your autoresponder, and see what happens with those who sign up and receive the Well done message instead of the Thank you message. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.