Email Subscribers - Don’t Let Them Leave Angry

  |  January 16, 2014   |  Comments

The primary reasons for unsubscribing continue to be frequency and relevancy (too much of the former and not enough of the latter).

bad-emailWhile the holiday season is often a time of overindulgence, January typically represents a return to practicality and sensibility (or at least an attempt to do so). This is perhaps best represented by those of us who seek to counter the excesses of November and December with new gym memberships, juice fasts and stricter diet regimens.

The renewed focus on discipline and moderation often goes well beyond health and wellness, with applications to other areas of life that have become unbalanced. Case in point: the inbox. What better way to offset the surge in volume that many email subscribers experienced as part of the frenzy of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and post-Christmas sale campaigns than unsubscribing? Far easier than shedding those extra holiday pounds, opting-out is the quickest way to trim the digital fat.

According to MarketingSherpa's 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, the combined average annual unsubscribe rate as estimated by B2B and B2C marketers is 3 percent. At this time of year, marketers can experience a significant increase, with opt-out rates doubling or even tripling. This is often directly related to the aggressive tactics implemented during the holiday season and gives the phrase "no pain, no gain" an entirely different meaning. After all, it's subscribers who are feeling the pain.

The primary reasons for unsubscribing continue to be frequency and relevancy (too much of the former and not enough of the latter). More than ever, it's important to take steps to mitigate an increase in unsubscribe requests, as well as effectively manage the opt-out process so that subscribers aren't left feeling frustrated with your brand, as well as your email program. Here are some tips for doing both.

Unsubscribe Prevention Tips:

  • Review the expectations you're setting during the sign-up process. Are subscribers clear about the content they'll receive from you and the frequency of your messaging? Are you sending what you promised? 
  • Always send a welcome message to confirm the sign-up and remind the subscriber of the benefits of receiving your messaging. This is also a great time to promote your preference center and encourage subscribers to update their information and interests so that you can customize your content.
  • If you plan to deviate from the expectations you set at sign-up (especially when it comes to frequency), prepare subscribers and give them options. Consider offering a weekly digest that summarizes your daily deal campaigns, or permission them in to receive additional sale emails. 
  • Implement a strategy to reengage the non-responders on your list. Unsubscribing is one of the most engaged forms of disengagement (complaints are another). You likely have a much larger percentage of email subscribers who have stopped interacting with your messaging, and it's common to see lists with only 10-20 percent of subscribers generating the bulk of activity. Create campaigns targeted at lapsed subscribers and determine who still has a pulse and whom you should stop mailing to. Beyond the effects this will have on performance, it will also positively impact your inbox placement as most major mailbox providers use engagement metrics to make filtering decisions.
  • Know who your most valuable subscribers are and reward them. Implement a loyalty program and create exclusive benefits for email subscribers. In addition to mining your own data, consider that geography may play a factor. Recent research by Custora shows that shoppers in rural states tend to do more online purchasing.
  • Refresh your creative templates at least annually and implement testing to gauge what resonates with your audience. At a minimum, test subject lines for every campaign.

Just as important as the "do's" are the "don'ts," so plan on avoiding these tactics:

  • Pre-checking the opt-in box or rechecking it after a user refreshes a page or navigates back from a previous page
  • Automatically opting-in a subscriber after they make an online or in-store purchase 
  • Automatically opting-in a customer to messaging from all of your brands when they've only made a purchase from one brand
  • Sending the same content to everyone. With the wealth of customer data and data analytics tools available, there is no excuse to forego targeted and triggered campaigns. Not only does sending generic content negatively affect engagement and drive unsubcribes, but it will also cause complaint activity.

Unsubscribe Process Tips:

  • Make opt-out easy. Not only is implementing a one-step process a requirement of CAN-SPAM, but the alternative (spam complaints) will get your email blocked and bulked and damage the performance of your email program. Furthermore, you're not the only one in control of your unsubscribe process. In addition to features like Gmail's List Unsubscribe, there are numerous apps like Unsubscriber and that make it easy for subscribers to prevent ever having to see another message from you in their inbox.
  • Don't send an email confirming the opt-out. Just don't. As Jimmy Fallon joked in his popular "Thank You Notes" segment, "Thank you, emails that say, ‘You have successfully unsubscribed from these emails,' for completely missing the point." That's what landing pages are for.
  • Feature alternative ways that subscribers can interact with your brand. A disengaged email subscriber may be primed to become an active social fan or follower.
  • Offer the choice of decreased frequency or paused messaging, as opposed to opting out. 
  • Collect data at the point of unsubscribe (such as reasons for opting out), that will help inform your program strategy. 

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Margaret Farmakis

As vice president of professional services at email intelligence company Return Path, Margaret Farmakis oversees teams of specialists helping global brands improve the deliverability, response, revenue, and ROI of their email marketing programs. Prior to her six years at Return Path, Margaret spent 10 years producing and managing multi-channel integrated direct marketing programs for Fortune 100 companies, focusing on the financial services and technology sectors.

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