Hornby train controller, with ‘inertia’ button! (Photo credit: Rain Rabbit)
The people over at AlchemyWorx put out an article today with this title: “Getting real about inactive subscribers.” About all that I can say about it is that it is a “feel good” article. The entire point of the post seems to be to help email marketers feel good about inertia. Why should they feel good about inertia? Because “you don’t know” (a phrase used twice in the piece, but hinted at on at least 6 occasions). You don’t know if people want to be removed, you don’t know if your emails are generating sales in other channels, you don’t know what your recipients really want.
The answer here, of course, is simple: If you don’t know, find out. Now, the execution of that strategy might be a touch more difficult, but the answer itself is simplicity.
If you are unwilling to spend the time and money and expend the effort to find out why people are not fully engaged by your email, then you need to purge people who are not demonstrating their engagement. Letting inertia carry things through until the subscriber makes a move is usually a bad idea, because that move may not be the one favorable to your business.
So, let’s look at some of the arguments here.
For one thing, we are talking about people who have opted in to receive your communications, and who have access to the simplest possible functionality – a single, clearly labelled click – should they wish to opt out again. Simply deleting these people from your base is assuming that you know better than they do what they want.
The fact is that “a single, clearly labelled (sic) click” is the exception rather than the rule. Responsys’s 2010 Retail Email Unsubscribe Benchmark Study Executive Summary noted that a plurality (39%) of unsubscribe processes took 3 clicks to accomplish.
Not only that, but we often engage in proactive, protective measures. When someone reports a single mailing to a feedback loop partner, we remove them from the list entirely. But that person didn’t take advantage of the ability to opt-out, and you could make the argument that the marketer doesn’t know if it is just that mailing that the recipient found to be spam-like, or if the recipient was just labeling all of the mail in their inbox as spam to clean it out (and yes, that does happen). It’s still the right thing to do.
So we’d disagree with the tendency to refer to long-term inactives as “emotionally unsubscribed”. The term puts an unnecessarily negative spin on email marketing, implying that the inactivity is somehow the fault of the sender. Many of us are perfectly happy to keep on receiving marketing emails without opening them (or not often). We may be busy, or we may open them much later from our archive, or we may simply be waiting for the right email to come along. . . .
In fact the more you think about it, the more long-term inactivity appears as perfectly normal, even the default mode for many subscribers. After all, how often do you actively interact with a marketing communication – of any kind, in any channel – from a car dealer, insurance company, real estate agent, consumer electronics retailer or hotel chain? Why then should email marketing be any different?
Email is a different medium than any other. Long-term inactivity may be normal, but means that you need adjust what you are doing to what the recipient wants. There is a reason why consultants like me don’t start and stop with the advice to purge inactive subscribers. List segmentation and listening to and setting recipient expectations are also important parts of the mix.
Again, this is a point where you have to wonder why inertia is a good thing. Getting great results in email comes as a result of putting time and effort into what you are sending, figuring out who you are sending it to, and why you are sending it. If you are not willing to put the time, effort, and money into figuring out how to do things the right way, why are you in this business?
After all, some 35% to 55% of your list will not have interacted with your emails for between 6 months and a year. These are people who do want to receive your emails, but don’t need your content or offer – yet. But they’re happy for you to keep putting stuff in front of them, and if you remove them you’ll never know if you missed another sale.
Assumptions are inertia’s greatest allies. Here we see two of them at work:
All of your inactives want to receive your messages. The fact of the matter is that there will be some inactives who want to continue receiving your mail and are just waiting for the right offer to come along. But, there will also be a good percentage of those inactives who are inactive because they don’t care. They don’t care about you or your offers. No offer that you send will ever be acted upon.
Not mailing your inactives means lost sales. The assumption here is that inactives are buying using other channels. Instead of clicking through to your website, they are visiting your bricks-and-mortar storefront or calling the operators that you have standing by. The key to understanding these sales is that you need to figure out a way to quantify those patterns.
You cannot afford to stake your reputation on assumptions, especially assumptions that tell you that inertia and the status quo are the right way to go. If you are going to leave some or all of your inactives in your active file, you need to be basing that upon data, not inertia.
Most of the time, when someone engages my services they are already suffering from reputation problems and they need help to get that fixed. Removing inactive subscribers is one part of that process. Holding tightly to the status quo because I just don’t know about that one sale I might be losing is not.
Why? Because blind inertia is not doing email marketing correctly.