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Investing in retention: Adestra on subscriber attrition and why it matters

Not everyone who subscribes to your emails is going to stay and while some attrition is normal, Adestra takes a look at what can be learned from unsubscribers and what can be done to reduce attrition.

May 29, 2018 | Sponsored content

Q. What is email attrition?

A. The dictionary defines "attrition" as "a reduction or decrease in numbers, size, or strength." In email, attrition represents the customers who have left your list. Most attention focuses on people who left by unsubscribing, but many marketers also count spam reporters and bouncing email addresses, both of which must be removed from your list to avoid penalties from ISPs that could harm delivery.

Q. Why should attrition matter to email marketers?

A. It matters because you have lost the opportunity to market to those subscribers. You did something to make them unsubscribe, and you need to understand why.

Maybe your content doesn't talk about things your customers care about. Or, it doesn't reflect their behaviour. Maybe you didn't explain what your emails were all about, or your content didn't live up to their expectations. They might not even have signed up for your messages, if you use pre-checked permission boxes or require them to receive email as a condition of doing business with you.

Sometimes, it's not even about you. Your customers could have outgrown you, or changed their interests, or moved on from the products or services you offer.

High attrition puts an extra burden on your email acquisition program because you have to work twice as hard to grow. First, you need to replace the people you lose. Then, you must acquire new subscribers beyond just replacing your list-leavers.

Q. So, attrition is a bad thing, right?

A. Not always. Despite what your execs might believe, database size isn't everything. You could have a million email addresses, but only a few thousand ever open your emails, and only a few hundred click. That's pretty dismal, and it can generate side effects that hurt your ability to reach the inbox.

People who unsubscribe are sending you a message. You need to figure out what that message is, whether it's general discontent, a disconnect with your audience's needs or inserts, or something that's tied to your customer or product lifecycle.

The unsubscribe rate (the percentage of customers who unsubscribe when you send a campaign) can tell you a lot. Track it to discover trends and spikes and see if it corresponds to time of year, to the content you're sending or some other factor.

Q. What tactics can email marketers use to reduce attrition?

A. First, remember that some attrition is normal. As I said previously, subscribers can age out of your email program – parents who subscribe for offers on baby clothes probably won't need those emails once their kids head off to university. People move away or change their minds or even find someone whose products they like better.

Focus instead on the issues that you can control – the content you send, the length, tone and design of your emails, even the frequency and cadence at which you send messages.

Opting down to reduce attrition

Getting emails too often always ranks high among consumers' reasons for unsubscribing or even clicking the spam button.

We're seeing more marketers – particularly retail marketers – take an “opt-down” approach to give subscribers an alternative to opting out. This means you give your subscribers more choices beyond opting out of your email program altogether, such as reducing frequency.

The opt-down approach to unsubscribe requests gives you an opportunity to retain those subscribers, and on their terms. You can offer this option to customers who choose to unsubscribe by sending them to a preference page that gives them the option to modify their subscriptions or opt out altogether.

The most basic opt-down list gives your subscribers the option to change their email frequency. If you send multiple emails daily, offer them the option to receive email once a week or once a month. Once a subscriber chooses a new frequency, you need to determine which emails from your entire email program will be sent to each frequency segment.

Let subscribers choose the campaigns

Consider giving subscribers the option to receive only certain types of campaigns. B2C marketers who sell several product categories could let subscribers choose the departments that interest them most, such as women's or children's clothing, sporting goods, or household appliances.

Financial-services companies could offer choices among mortgage rates, bank promotions, investments, or everyday accounts.

B2B companies can get quite specific, separating product updates from company news, white papers, and case studies.

What’s important is to think about the main verticals within your business and the types of products or categories you offer.  Put those the options on the opt-down page. Be realistic, however, and make sure those are categories that you can use to create segments in your email program.

Wrapping up

The caveat with opt-down, whether you tie it to frequency or interests, is that you will need to invest time and effort to create a page that offers those options. If you're serious about trying to retain more subscribers, it will be worth the investment.

Want to learn more about onboarding subscribers and turning emails into conversions? Take a look at step one and step two.

  • Contact Rob Hollier at Adestra: rob.hollier@adestra.com

This story is part of a paid partnership with Adestra.

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