The Email Marketer’s Syllogism
I get to see a number of things on a daily basis which indicate that people may not have the best ideas when it comes to understanding how engaged their subscribers are. One such example reads:
There are tens of thousands of people in our database with whom we communicate and who clearly want to receive our mailings, as the number of people who “opt out” or “unsubscribe” is quite small.
There is an informational disconnect at work here. Notice that there is a claim that people clearly want to receive the mailings because the number of people who opt-out is small. Now, granted, the number of people who opt-out of a class of mailings, or unsubscribe completely, may be small. But, that is not the same as saying that the subscribers who do not opt-out or unsubscribe clearly want to receive the mailings. Metrics don’t work that way. Neither does logic.
The reasoning here is what I call the Email Marketer’s Syllogism and goes something like this:
- Anyone who doesn’t want our mail will opt-out.
- Most people don’t opt-out.
- Therefore, most people want our mail.
Now, that statement makes some sense, right? Its logic is internally consistent. But, does that make it so? Of course not. As an example of that, let’s consider another syllogism (with apologies to Johnny Cash):
- Only boys like blue.
- Sue likes blue.
- Therefore, Sue is a boy.
The problem here is that there is that the first major premise is faulty. Not all boys like blue. (For instance, I’m a boy and I don’t like blue much at all, and certainly not as much as I like green.) And, some girls like blue as well as or more than some boys do. The same is true of the Email Marketer’s Syllogism. Not all people who don’t want your mail will opt-out. There are a variety of things that they can do. They can:
- Opt-out or unsubscribe,
- Delete your mail,
- Mark your mail as spam in their mail reader,
- Report your mail as spam to your ESP and/or ISP,
- Report your mail as spam to their provider, or
- Report your mail as spam to their filter provider.
They might do any or all of these things. But notice that only one of those six conforms to the marketer’s expectations as to what dissatisfied people will do.
The lesson here is to look at all of your metrics. Unsubscribes and opt-outs don’t necessarily tell all of the story. Block metrics tell part of the story. So does information from feedback loops, if you have access to them. Landing in the spam folder will tell part of the story. (And don’t forget that mail that is blocked or spam foldered will never be seen to be opt-ed out of, as a rule!) Spam reports received by your ESP or ISP will also tell part of the story.
Just don’t imagine that low opt-out or unsubscribe rates somehow magically means that you have a big, fat list of engaged subscribers.