Are you the victim of “soft opt-out”?

By Tim Beadle, director, Atrium Group

You have heard of “soft opt-in” I am sure, where you can email someone because they have transacted with you. But what about “soft opt-out”? Well, if you are doing much email marketing the chances are very high that you are the victim of “soft opt-out”.

If you use any of the popular email clients, then you know it is easy to flag emails as spam. Did you know that 56 per cent of consumers consider email to be spam simply if it is “just not interesting to me” – even where they requested the emails in the first place? (Source: MarketingSherpa 2009). These people don’t bother to hit the unsubscribe button, they simply flag a message as spam. Why? Because many do not trust unsubscribes, others because they might want it at some point, if they ever remember. Welcome to the soft opt-out.

Falling open rates
I’ve been doing an informal survey of the major e-mail service providers in the UK and found that opens on emails fall by 50 per cent to 75 per cent on average in the first six months on any list. Why? Because marketers are ignoring relevance and are being hit by soft opt-outs. No-one is looking at your deathless prose any more because it is all going straight to the spam folder. No matter how good your offer or creative, you will never recover – because no-one bothers with their spam folder other than to scroll down it to see if there is an email from someone they know in there by accident.

How do you stop this happening? First off, start segmenting and targeting more and stop thinking of email marketing as “free”. Getting those email addresses cost money in the first place – they are an expensive asset and indiscriminate mailing destroys the value of that asset. And you are making matters worse by actually pushing potential customers away from you.

Trust me, email marketing costs – a lot! So focus on appropriate offers. For a national rail company we saw ROI on email marketing soar by 44 per cent through better segmenting. The cost? Minimal. Secondly, if your open rate is below 10 per cent on your list, consider changing the mailfrom address. That way your next email won’t automatically hit the spam folder. But make sure you address the issue of relevance first or you’ll be back in the same old mess in a matter of weeks.

Relevance is in the eye of the beholder
When constructing your email campaigns, don’t think, “what do I need to sell this week?” Instead, think, “what would people like to buy?” That line of thought will then lead you naturally to identifying segments within your database and specific propositions that you can put to them.

You could even adopt John Frazer-Robinson’s favourite trick and craft your campaigns while sitting on the other side of your desk so you can see things from the customer’s perspective! And by doing that you will avoid the lethal effects of soft opt-outs on your email campaigns.

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