Why Bacon Tastes So Good

Mashable recently ran a helpful short piece on why email bacon is effective while spam is a nuisance.  Bacon, of course, is the email that we sign-up to receive.  It’s the Groupon coupons, the Facebook updates, and, yes, the Jason’s Blog feed.  Spam, on the other hand, is all of the unsolicited email junk from marketers, businesses, and salespeople of all types.

Two observations about email bacon:

  • It works – in 2009, $26 billion was generated in sales for online retailers at almost no cost per email.
  • People will delete individual email bacon, but will unsubscribe from the service far less often.

The article suggests that the top reason people don’t unsubscribe is because it is a hassle.  While unsubscribing can be a hassle, I think there is a bigger, more important issue at work here:  They have asked for the email bacon.  The have opted-in.

Think about the psychological paradox that presents itself.  We stumble upon a website that provides us with coupons or information, etc., that we believe will be helpful.  So, we sign up to have the content delivered to our email in-boxes.  We choose it.  We select it.  We opt-in.

And then, after a few weeks of receiving emails, we find that the information isn’t as helpful as we had hoped.  But we don’t unsubscribe.  And here’s why: First, yes, it can be an inconvenience to unsubscribe.  Second, we may be of the mindset that the good and helpful content we had hoped for is coming in the next email and we don’t want to miss out.  Kind of like a gambler who just knows the next pull of the slots will be lucky.

Or third, and most importantly I would suggest, we do not unsubscribe because we asked to have it delivered to us.  And, as humans, we simply hate to admit – even to ourselves – that we made a poor decision.  We locked-in ourselves psychologically and it’s hard to turn back from that position.  It means we admit that our initial decision was a faulty one.  Of course, we don’t typically do this at a conscious level.  We don’t argue with ourselves consciously about this poor decision.  But someplace deep down, unconsciously, we don’t unsubscribe because it makes us feel like we made a dumb decision to begin with.

And this lesson is much bigger than email bacon.  It’s really about a much broader point about human nature and donors.  When we get donors to tell us what they want for our institutions, we are close to the gift.

So much attention is focused on the ask – us asking donors.  But the reality is we are far more successful when donors tell us what they want.  “Jason, we need a new performing arts center!” or  “Our endowment is too small to support the kind of professional development we need for the faculty!”

When donors talk like this, they are locking themselves in to support our priorities and they are moving much closer to making a gift.  Our job is to get them to tell us that we need to be successful in achieving our priorities – to select our priorities for themselves.   Because, after all, when they ask for it bacon tastes even better.


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