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It’s always hard when someone says good-bye, whether they unfriend you on Facebook or unsubscribe from your email list. But unsubscribes aren’t always a bad thing. Plus, they can teach you a few things about your list, and your email marketing. We’ll cover these topics in this post.

Let’s start with why unsubscribes are not necessarily a bad thing.

Like most businesses, your goals for email marketing may include generating leads or garnering repeat business. When people leave your cadre of subscribers, it’s probably because they weren’t too likely to buy from you anyway. So when you thin out your subscriber base, you increase the likelihood that your list includes more of your core base of engaged, interested customers and fewer of the other kind.

Some attrition is to be expected. Some people may have signed up just for the discount coupon, or the freebie, or whatever interested them initially. Once they gained the initial benefit, they didn’t want anything else.

Next, let’s talk about what you can learn from unsubscribes.

As you have probably experienced from your own inbox, email subscribers are already facing an onslaught of incoming emails each day. They are selective, and so you need to be laser-sharp with what you send. So what can you learn when someone drops off your list?

Your content isn’t really relevant. It’s essential to make your content relevant to specific audiences. One powerful way to do this is to segment your list. Do you sell sporting goods? Divide up your audiences by interests – hunting, fishing, golf, etc., and you are more likely to deliver content that is relevant and interesting. You may have collected this information when the customer signed up. Or if your point of sale data integrates with your marketing platform, you’ll already have it at your fingertips.

Your Emails aren’t ‘human’ enough. Today’s consumers have a lot of expectations. They believe marketers should know who they are, where they live, and what their buying behavior looks like. The more relevant you are to your subscriber, the more likely he or she is to open— and actually read (and maybe even click!) your emails. Use your customer data to customize content based on everything you know about the people who signed up: preferences expressed when they signed up or at subsequent touch points, interests, gender, age, and even past purchases. Continually send generic emails and people will pull the plug. Treat them like an individual, and they will likely stay loyal and subscribed.

People like personalization and exclusivity. Personalizing emails with your customer’s name in the salutation can increase engagement, open rates, and retention. In addition, when customers feel like they are getting exclusive offers, they are more likely to stay subscribed. Provide offers that are available exclusively to your email subscribers.

Email may no longer be their preferred way to hear from you. Do customers prefer to hear from you via direct mail, through social media, or perhaps even text messaging? You can customize your communication methods according to their preferences. Ask email subscribers using a short survey. And on your email unsubscribe page, share any alternative methods of communication that you offer.

Your emails may not be delivering what subscribers expected. Do your opt-out rates spike after you add a new group of subscribers? You may need to take a closer look at your signup process or messaging. There may be a disconnect between what you promise and what your emails actually deliver. 

You may be sending too frequently. Back to the exploding inbox. People like you. They appreciate hearing from you, or they wouldn’t have given you permission to step into their lives via email. But choose a pace that works for your type of business and what you offer. A table service restaurant can probably do well with a pace of one or two emails a month. If you are emailing your quick serve deli rewards program customers, you may have a higher level of engagement and can get away with weekly emails. It helps to let people know at sign-up how often they can expect you to email.

Conversely, you may not be sending frequently enough. If you don’t contact subscribers frequently enough, they may not remember your brand or even the fact that they signed up. Case in point: a hotel I stayed at in a sleepy, remote tourist town while attending a conference sends me annual emails during their winter slow season. I wouldn’t mind hearing from them more often - perhaps quarterly, with highlights of the festivals or seasonal events happening in town, so that I could consider planning a trip there with my spouse. But annual emails? I’m likely to forget about them and unsubscribe from the next one that lands in my inbox.

Final Thoughts
When you look at a spreadsheet or CRM database full of contacts, it’s easy to see a list of faceless subscribers. But remember that behind each name and email address is a real person. You may desire to sell, sell, sell. Instead, strive to make a personal connection at each touchpoint, and you are more likely to win hearts and minds long-term.

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