Marketers Who Welcome an Unsubscribe

Imagine email marketers who really want their subscribers to unsubscribe. It seems blasphemous, until you realize that it’s really just smart product marketing.

At Return Path’s Email Expert City Seminar in San Francisco yesterday, two companies with very large files talked about how they use transactional email messages to build a compelling subscriber experience and drive customer behavior. Nicole Bartholomew of eBay sends 18 billion messages a year and Serge Tyurin of Facebook sends about 170 million a day. Both of them have worked hard to make sure that customers are receiving only the types of messages that they really want. “I’d be happy if someone unsubscribes,” Nicole says. “It’s a way of making sure that we don’t bother them! I’m not necessarily proud of that 18 billion as a number — I want to send messages that are well received and have value.”

“I tell my friends to opt out of all email,” Serge says, only half joking. He’s introduced new templates to differentiate between confirmations, invite-a-friend messages and application mail messages so that subscribers can quickly gravitate to email they want, and perhaps just delete the others. These, along with a preference center that allows subscribers to select only the types of messages they prefer, gives some control back to the subscriber.

For both companies, these are transactional messages, not marketing messages. Yet, they are definitely marketing (with a small “m,” perhaps) because all these message streams are about encouraging more utility of the service and building loyalty. Nicole adds a coupon to a lost bid confirmation, which encourages buyers to find another seller of the same product. On Facebook members can download applications within the service and host them on their personal pages. So, Serge tracks complaints by source to identify the specific applications which generate disproportionate numbers of complaints.

When subscribers get a lot of messages that are not valuable to them, they start to tune out all your messages. This means it’s imperative that you make sure every touch has meaning. Doing that will result in a quick improvement in response. This is a principle we call “prior value.” Email messages are not received in a vacuum — each one contributes to the next message’s success.

Both Nicole and Serge can confidently talk about welcoming unsubscribe requests because they have well-designed preference centers and provide options to their subscribers. A great preference center gives more than just control to your subscribers. It gives you valuable feedback and peace of mind that you are sending the right cadence and frequency and offer type to each subscriber.

Bottom line: subscribers don’t know (or care!) which of your messages are marketing and which are transactional. They know they get messages from you and each one contributes to the overall experience. If you want improve response and the overall value of your email program, consider following the example of Nicole and Serge and increase transparency around permissions and give subscribers a choice. This is a strategy that works for every marketer, whether you send billions, millions or just hundreds of messages a month!

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