How to stop people from unsubscribing

Last month I wrote about the four things major league pitchers can teach us about email marketing. This month, I turn to my mom. When it comes to summer, my mom has a saying: "Summer's always almost over." She'll start saying that in early June, long before it's actually true. And what she means is that you need to embrace the good weather and start doing summer activities right away because the season is going to go by very fast. Before you know it, it will be late August, and summer really will be "almost over." And now, it might be too late to do everything you might have wanted to do.

OK, so what does that have to do with email marketing? It's simple. How often do we get a new subscriber into our email marketing database, send that person a nice welcome campaign (shame on you if you don't have a nice welcome campaign!), and then start sending regular emails as if we've now got a subscriber for life? In reality, that subscriber is going to leave at some point or, at a minimum, start ignoring your emails and become an inactive subscriber. It is going to happen, so get over it! As I like to say, you start losing a customer the minute she makes a first purchase.

Once you accept that fact, you can now develop the mindset that your relationship with that subscriber is "always almost over." And if that is your mindset, what would you do differently? How would you treat a subscriber that was always one step away from being out the door? My guess is that you'd do several things differently.

For example, don't put a great campaign idea off until tomorrow if you can do it today. If you have a great campaign idea -- one that is bound to get a good response -- don't slot it at some future date because you've already got a campaign in the queue. You never know what tomorrow will bring in regards to your list, the economy, and other factors that impact a campaign. I mean, sure you can go ahead and clean the garage today, but your hike might be rained out tomorrow if you go that route.

Now let's look at some best practices email marketers often use when they suspect someone is about to unsubscribe or that person is actually unsubscribing. How might we benefit by employing these ideas before the subscriber gets to that point?

Provide incentives or other special treatment (e.g., personalized, private offers). Why not introduce this treatment early in the relationship? Why shouldn't you have tiered levels of service and offers for people who actively engage with you? If you do that early, summer just might last a little longer!

Request feedback regarding the content they want, frequency of emails, and types of offers. Now you should have a preference center to which you drive new subscribers to collect this data. If you don't, then use an email to gather it. The sooner you provide relevant (drink) offers to your new subscribers, the stronger (and longer) the relationship you build might be.

Alert customers if the benefits of a product or program have changed since their last activity. Why not do this on an ongoing basis? This will continually show the advantages of staying a subscriber or of checking you out again. Don't assume that your subscribers actually pay attention to what you are up to. It's always better to hit them over the head with program improvements.

Give other channel options (e.g., SMS, social, etc.). This is maybe my favorite of all. How many times have you started to unsubscribe only to finally be clued in on the fact that there are other channels of communication you can use with that company? Get it out there early and often. I don't care what channel a customer prefers -- as long as they prefer me over my competition.

Depending on the client, give samples and spiffs to help them fall back in love. But again, why wait until they are falling out of love to show them how much you value your business? If you value their business, show them now. It's not enough to provide a "We value your business so please stay on the line" when they call you to complain. First, if you valued their business, you'd have enough people on hand to answer their calls. But more importantly, there are tangible ways to show your appreciation on an ongoing basis. People love special sales and free offers.

So now that summer really is almost over (sorry for that depressing thought), at least you can take comfort in the thought that, while you can't make summer last any longer than it lasts, you just might now have the tools to make your email relationships last longer than they otherwise might have. And who knows -- maybe we'll have an Indian summer this year.

Chris Marriott is vice president, agency services at Acxiom.

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