How to handle ‘unsubscribes’

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Jilted e-mail marketers, take heart: A recipient who clicks “unsubscribe” may not be rejecting you outright. Of course, it’s critical to honor unsubscribe requests and remove these individuals from your e-mail list immediately--even if legally you have 10 days to take action—but there may be ways to salvage the relationship, said Bonnie Malone, director of strategic services at Return Path, a New York-based e-mail deliverability company.

Malone, who authored a recent report on keeping brand experiences positive after recipients opt to no longer receive e-mails, offered some helpful tips on how to hold onto people who have unsubscribed.

  • Promote preferences. Marketers that have preference pages should remind recipients who would like to unsubscribe that they can change the type of content the company sends them, or alter the frequency of information delivery, Malone said. Promoting preferences at the unsubscribe point gives subscribers control and a choice not to opt out entirely, she said. “That’s good for the marketer, too, because they will know exactly who wants to receive what type of information, which will naturally improve response rate,” she said.
  • Get feedback. Marketers can ask unhappy subscribers why they would like to unsubscribe, using just one question with multiple choice answers, Malone said. “It gives subscribers a platform to voice their opinion and for the marketer to understand how their program truly is being perceived,” she said.
  • Confirm the process. Unsubscribers expect not to get any more mail from your company once they’ve made that selection. But in reality, it sometimes takes a few days to implement that request, Malone said. It’s important to let unsubscribers know they may still get a couple more e-mails before the process is complete. “By being respectful that way, it prevents them from hitting the spam message and you end on a positive note,” she said.
  • Offer e-mail change of address. Malone suggested marketers give subscribers an opportunity to update their e-mail address on the unsubscribe page. That way, recipients who landed on that page simply because they were looking to receive the e-mail at a different address won’t have to re-enter all of their contact information. Plus, you as a marketer can then maintain the historical behavior data of that person on your list, Malone said.
  • Reaffirm the benefits. Don’t be shy about reminding subscribers what they’ll be missing out on by unsubscribing. This strategy works best in tandem with a preferences option. “Communicate the benefits of your program and then give the unsubscriber the opportunity to reduce frequency,” she said.
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