Mental opt-out: the curse and the cure

Kieran Kilmartin, group marketing director at Portrait Software, discusses the challenges surrounding the mental opt-out phenomenon and how marketers can prevent it.

Kieran Kilmartin
Kieran Kilmartin

How many times have you opened your inbox to find the same old message from a company that seems to contact you day-in, day-out, offering a totally irrelevant product or service that you have neither need for or interest in? Yes, it might look like a pretty and well-designed piece of marketing but if it’s simply not relevant, the chances are you’ll just hit ’delete’ and forget it was ever there.

So, although you haven’t physically scrolled down to the bottom to unsubscribe and physically opt- out of the mailing list, you have mentally opted-out of contact from the company by ignoring and deleting their messages.

Unfortunately, for marketers who are trying to reach what they believe is their target audience, this mental opt-out actually has the same negative impact as physical opt-out or ’do not call’ lists. If an existing or potential customer doesn’t even take the time to read an email – never mind click through to your site – the end result is the same as if they had added their name to the ’unsubscribe’ list – i.e. a missed opportunity to make a sale. It’s only when an email campaign fails to yield the expected results that marketers begin to see that the numbers are not adding up.

Mental opt-out is an increasingly wide-spread and common challenge facing B2C organisations. Many companies aren’t even aware of this hurdle and those that are, struggle to find a solution. More often than not, it usually occurs when marketers bombard their customers with excessive blanket, untargeted email messages.

One of the key ’drivers’ of mental opt-out is marketers (still) suffering from the perception that email is free. Email isn’t free; it should be viewed as a precious commodity to be used with caution. It is all too easy for an organisation to take a scattergun approach to an email campaign, forgetting that our in-boxes are very personal spaces.

Consciously or not, many marketers perceive that financially they have nothing to lose – and lots to gain – by sending out regular emails to their contact lists. However, whilst this untargeted approach may have yielded solid results ten years ago, the increasingly savvy nature of the consumer means this rarely holds true anymore.

For every irrelevant or untargeted email a customer receives, there is a detrimental knock-on effect. Each email slowly and silently chips away at the likelihood they will take the time to read and act on the next one. If the recipient begins to associate emails from your company with irrelevant news or offers, they’re more likely to simply delete it, dismissing it as little more than spam.

This not only reduces your chance of reaching them later with something that is of relevance but importantly, it also seriously impacts upon your company’s reputation. Once a brand has crossed that ’trust’ line in the mind of the customer, it is extremely hard to earn it back.

The good news however is that, once marketers are aware of mental opt-out and the reasons behind it, there are ways to help prevent it occurring. By taking the time to consider and understand each of their customers as individuals, organisations can ensure they only ever contact each one with relevant and timely emails that they are likely to read and benefit from.

Organisations can only optimise the impact of their email marketing campaigns in this way if they have a clear understanding of which customers will react most positively to a specific message or offer.

One effective way to do this is to segment the customer audience using an analytic approach to marketing called uplift modeling. Uplift predicts the difference that a marketing campaign will make to the behavior of customers.
By utilising customer data such as interaction history, current products or services used and personal preferences, uplift modeling effectively categorises individual customers into one of the following groups: sure things, persuadables, lost causes and sleeping dogs – based on a prediction of how each customer will react to a marketing campaign. This enables marketers to focus on contacting only those customers that will react positively.

“Sure things” are customers that were planning to buy or renew regardless and don’t need any incentive or extra marketing. Contacting these customers could potentially increase campaign fulfillment costs if you’re offering a product or service at a lower price. It’s important to identify these customers and avoid emailing them special offers that will negatively affect profit margins.

“Lost causes” are those customers that will never buy or renew no matter what you email them. Contacting this group is most often a waste of time, but these customers are not as dangerous as the final group, “sleeping dogs” – those customers that do not want to be disturbed.

These are the customers who will be annoyed by irrelevant emails and will likely be provoked to opt out of the contact list and take their business elsewhere. For example, a renewal reminder to this group would be a red flag to get a competitor’s quote!

With that in mind, a targeted strategy, fuelled by intelligent analytics, can help companies to determine each customer’s preferences, ensuring the right message or offer is targeted to the right person, helping to reduce both mental and physical opt-out – as well as improving overall campaign ROI.

In this increasingly competitive marketplace, building an email campaign around robust analytics is the key to solid customer relationships, building trust and unlocking long-term value through relevant, personalised and timely content, delivered to the right people at the right time. The net effect is improved results through less marketing but smarter marketing.

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