The Case for Opt-Out

We asked for feedback when we launched our Executive Summary (ES) a couple of weeks ago, and it was gratifying to see an overwhelmingly positive response. However, one ClickZ reader had a different reaction to the way we chose to launch our new offering. I’d like to quote part of her very articulate comments below.

    I applaud ClickZ for recognizing the apparent need for the new weekly Executive Summaries that were just launched. At the same time, I am troubled by the way ClickZ handled the launch — both from a permission perspective as well as from a marketing viewpoint.

    If any company other than ClickZ had proceeded in the same way, I would have chalked it up to not understanding what permission and opt-in mean. However, with all the discussions we’ve had on this forum about permission and opt-in, and the weight that ClickZ carries among online marketers, I can’t.

    What was done with the full weekly summary was fine by me — and probably acceptable to most ClickZ subscribers. We were sent a sample issue with information on how we can subscribe.

    However, the focused executive summaries are another story. I received the Weekly Email Marketer Executive Summary this morning. First it starts:

      As you know, The ClickZ Executive Summary premiered last week. Reader after reader told us, “Hey, I like it… but I’d like it even more if I could have just the stuff that’s most relevant to me!”

      We listened. So this week ClickZ is launching five new products — smaller, more targeted publications like the one you’re reading now.

    After reading this, I thought, great! Although I enjoy all of ClickZ’s many columns, I really don’t have the time to read them all.

    Then I read:

      We’ve sent you this introductory edition of the Email Marketer Executive Summary because you already subscribe to one or more of the ClickZ Today content threads you’ll find summarized here.

    Hmmm… OK, by hard-liners’ definition of what is acceptable permission marketing, this is definitely not cool. However, since I am interested, I don’t really mind seeing a sample before I actually subscribe to it. Then the bomb drops when I read this:

      If you prefer not to receive this publication, send a blank email to the following address:
      mailto:leave-emailmarketer.es.txt@my.clickz.com.

    Wait a second! Did I ASK to subscribe to this new publication? Definitely not.

    ClickZ has just made the same flawed assumption that too many other marketers do: Assuming that by giving my permission to receive one ClickZ publication in a certain area, that means I want to receive any future offerings in that same area.

    This is a perfect demonstration of opt-out marketing! On a daily basis, we get at least a handful of clients or prospective clients that want to do this same thing — add subscribers from one publication to another without their permission. We obviously don’t allow this. Two clients, whom we previously advised this was not an acceptable marketing practice, have already contacted us questioning: If ClickZ can do it, what’s wrong with it?

    What SHOULD ClickZ have done? Any of the following were options (in increasing order of preference):

    • Only subscribe those to the weekly summaries that were not already subscribed to the daily ones.

    • Send one sample weekly summary to everyone subscribed to individual columns with clear instructions on how to subscribe.
    • Send one sample weekly summary to everyone subscribed to individual columns who is not subscribed to the daily summaries and provide instructions on how to subscribe.
    • Send a single email to all ClickZ subscribers about the new publications, providing information on how to subscribe and view sample issues online.
    • Do the same thing, but within an email which ClickZ subscribers have specifically requested.

    Sharon Tucci
    President & CEO
    Sling Shot Media, LLC
    http://www.ListHost.net
    “Your List Hosting SpeciaLists”

First, I want to thank Sharon for calling us on this issue. It’s one the online marketing community needs to continue a dialogue on, and one on which my thinking has evolved over time.

I’ve been a die-hard opt-in advocate for quite some time, and despite the fact that we very clearly used opt-out in the marketing of our executive summaries, I still believe that where no relationship or permission exists, opt-in emailing is the only way to go.

So why did ClickZ choose the opt-out approach on the launch of its new series of newsletters?

Over the past three-and-a-half years, ClickZ has developed a special relationship with its readers. I personally read and respond to darn near every email sent my way and have a pretty strong sense of what our readers want. I receive two messages pretty consistently:

  • One urges us to continue to stay relevant in the online marketing industry. This is what drove us to launch an email marketing column before this vehicle had even gained credibility, and it’s why we reserved the domain of wirelessmarketer.com. As each area grows, the demand for more specialized content grows, and if we don’t provide that content, someone else will.

  • The other message is that our readers are besieged by information overload. We’re contributing to it. We have to in order to meet the constantly evolving needs of our audience.

Right now, many of our readers subscribe to ClickZ Today, ClickZ Forum, and a half-dozen or more full-text columns. We have received a substantial amount of email over the past two years begging us to come up with exactly what we created: a weekly summary of all the ClickZ columns.

In response to the feedback we got from our first mailing of the Executive Summary, we decided to offer specialized editions (EmailMarketer, MediaPlanner, SiteMarketer, StrategicMarketer, and StartupMarketer) for those who subscribed to relevant full-text articles. After these specialized ES editions ran, we got a ton of very positive emails and one negative email.

Future specialized ES editions will have a clear, simple, one-click unsubscribe link at the top of each mailing. We don’t want anyone receiving these mailings who doesn’t want them.

The risk we take in marketing the specialized ES editions is that there may be a number of our full-text article subscribers who choose to unsubscribe from all but the ES or specialized ES editions that they want.

We can live with that because that’s what our customers want.

Why opt-out versus opt-in?

Two reasons:

  1. We felt the relationship and permission level we had developed with our readers was strong enough to withstand an opt-out approach. Our data indicated that our readers wanted our content in digest summary form. We felt the risk was minimal because we weren’t selling to strangers, we weren’t offering a get-rich-quick plan, and we were giving our readers exactly what they had asked for.

  2. We wanted to get a sense quickly whether our readers would like this offering, and the double opt-in subscription process is incredibly slow to grow to critical mass. Our internal data tells us that you lose about one third of your subscribers in the confirmation process, for whatever reason. My best guess is that their mailboxes are overloaded as it is, and the confirmation mailing often gets overlooked.

The preliminary response after week one was that our readers liked what they got and very, very few objected to our autosubscribing them.

Ann and I will be monitoring the Forum and reading our email closely to hear your feedback on this. Anyone who wishes to write to us directly can do so by emailing us at annandandy@clickz.com. Thanks for hearing us out, and we look forward to your feedback.

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