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Reasons why reducing the size of your email list may be a good idea

Author's avatar By Marie Page 23 Oct, 2013
Essential Essential topic

Do you dare ask your mailing list if they want to unsubscribe?

In this post, I'll veer away from my usual advice and updates on Facebook, although Facebook does feature. This is the story of what some might think is pretty much the anathema of a good marketer... I proactively tried to reduce the size of my mailing list.

Why? Well a number of reasons, the idea was initially driven by the fact that we were about to go over a monthly price threshold in our email provider's pricing options. At the same time the list felt like it was getting a bit dated with open rates languishing and some names having been with us for up to a decade. We'd recently done a competition which rewarded people for referring "friends". It was clear from a look through some of these email addresses that they were in fact second or third emails belonging to our original subscriber. I don't want to be paying to send duplicate emails to people.

Before taking action I researched my options. Mailchimp (our email provider) encourage companies to regularly prune their lists. They advise kicking off the least active subscribers and even help you to do this by awarding subscribers between 1 and 5 stars.

They suggest deleting out those with only 1 and 2 stars (a process helpfully described here). So long as I could keep in the newbies that hadn't yet had a chance to engage, I thought this was a pretty good idea until I started clicking through my own list and found plenty of 2-star people that had relatively recently opened emails from us. That's a fairly engaged potential customer in my book and not one I want to lose from my list.

I was also aware that the accuracy of open tracking is far less than perfect (as explained here) so I could end up deleting someone that always opens our emails but simply doesn't display the images.

So what to do?

I decided it was worth sending a short email out with a relatively shock headline. I've copied this below:

mailchimp unsubscribe

You'll see I did a few things here:

  • Firstly I kept the message really simple. It was not difficult to skim the email and click on the Unsubscribe button (where they would then be presented with an "are you sure" screen as well as the option to give us feedback on the reasons for unsubscribing).
  • Secondly I decided to give people the opportunity to give us open feedback via email. I was astonished at how many people replied in this way. I think the slightly shocking title led many people to believe they were somehow in danger of being auto-unsubscribed so they replied in their droves telling us that "No. Please don't unsubscribe me. I LOVE the newsletter!".
  • Thirdly, I decided to sweeten the whole thing with a free gift. I felt this might reconvert a lapsed customer or someone in a bad mood bent on emptying their inbox. Surely an organisation giving away 22 free lessons can't be all bad? This "secret page" I reference is actually the link we give to people when they sign up on the website to receive emails. It's our equivalent of a white paper. The majority of our existing list (which we've collated from sales records and conference sign-ups) won't have ever had the free lessons so it was nice to reward them. Rather than yet another email from Musicademy suggesting they buy something, here was a free gift.

And the results?

Actually quite surprising. Yes we had a lot more unsubscribes than usual (0.038% against our usual of less than 0.002% - that's 38 in every thousand). And for once I was happy with that. But it wasn't anything like as overwhelming as I had feared (I guess a lot of our inactives simply have our emails going to spam or are a relatively dead account which isn't yet giving Mailchimp a hard bounce).

The open rate was a lot higher than usual. Half the people opening the email clicked on the "secret" page and half on the unsubscribe link.

Bizarrely we even made a couple of sales as a result of the Unsubscribe message!

By the way, if you follow my approach exactly and you are using Mailchimp, don't use the normal Reports tool to check your unsubscribes. This will only show you the numbers who clicked Unsubscribe in the footer. You will need to download an excel file of your Unsubscribes from the list and count up those unsubscribing for the days following your campaign.

I decided (as I am wont to do) to share the story on Facebook. The result of this:

  • Loads of engagement - likes, comments and shares
  • Lots of people without being cajoled volunteering lovely things about us - brilliant social proof. Not only did that make our team feel really good about themselves, but it demonstrated to other fans that genuine normal people actually really appreciate Musicademy and don't want to miss out on our messaging
  • Great organic reach (always a good thing)

fb feedback

I've had emails from marketers on our mailing list saying "Great idea. Would you mind sharing your results? I've a client that might be interested in this approach."

We've also received (and I genuinely didn't expect this) a ton of emails back containing unsolicited customer reviews including some that gave us helpful customer insights. I'll share a number here. I said we had been overwhelmed! (And you can bet that these will be appearing on our website and newsletter sign up form in due course.):

  • "I just want to say "thank you " for all the great updates,and practical information regarding leading worship.Please continue my subscription " Dave, Denmark
  • "Please keep me on your list.  I love receiving Musicademy updates.   Thanks, and may God bless." Ralph, WA, USA
  • "I love to get your emails so don't stop sending them! I have bought a number of your guitar DVDs snd have some drumming ones on my Christmas list.  I tell all my muso friends to check out your site. I'm a Musicademy fan!! Blessings on your ministry" Ann, Aussie living in Brussells
  • "It is great stuff and priced right, too!" David, guitar player
  • "I read these!  Just letting you know!  I appreciate the many amazing resources and that's it's for the Kingdom of God! Blessings to you, your families and your ministry!" Brian
  • "Thanks for the interesting articles and forums. I don't use them all but do pass on to the rest of the group as the maybe of value to someone else" Simon
  • "Many thanks for your e-mails. We don't very often buy stuff, but have recommended you to others who do, and we really value your site, especially the stuff on music theory. Keep up the good work." Willow
  • "I enjoy receiving emails from Musicademy. Unfortunately I don't have a lot of resources to be able to buy as much  material as I'd like, but I do enjoy and appreciate the content within your emails very much. Thank you for providing this valuable resource." Rick
  • NO, I do not want to unsubscribe ! Your work is really amazing and inspiring! I’ve followed it almost from the beginning, and I purchased many of your dvds that became a great help in my playing." Valerie, France
  • "I love getting your email and hope one day that I will improve to glorify God." Terri
  • "GOODNESS ME NO !!!..   Did I push a wrong button ????? Keep me on. I’ve purchased a few DVD’s and enjoy the updates." Darryl
  • "Just to let you guys know your newsletter is a blessing and a massive tool for our worship team. We love receiving it and keep up the good work." Hastings
  • "I'm no longer in a church where there is a music group (more's the pity!) but I still enjoy your e-mails.  They are informative and entertaining.  Occasionally I can pass things on to interested friends." Nancy
  • "I definitely do not want to be removed from your list! I always look forward to the Newsletter, and often find things of interest and relevance. I just wish I could get the rest of the band to read them! Keep up the good work, and many thanks." Ken
  • "No I don't want to stop. You affirm what we do and give great articles that I share with music team. That includes sound and musos. It's great to think that we are miles away in culture but worship in such a similar way." Lorna, South Africa
  • "Great stuff! Keep it coming!" Pat
  • "I absolutely do not want to unsubscribe.  Your articles etc., make very good reading and you have lots of useful info for the likes of me who needs things very basic! Thank you for all your work.  It is much appreciated." Linda
  • "I like the emails, read at least one of the articles each time." Bruce
  • "Keep me signed up please.  Great stuff for us without a band.  [yet ]" Rev Bob, USA
  • "Please keep me on your mailing list.  Many good tips to advise worship teams.  Good teaching tool.  Thank you." Monika

I particularly liked this comment from Alun:

"I was impressed with the email, you're the only company on my subscription list that's done this and I think it deserves respect. It's another clear indication of your openness and integrity. Well done, keep up the excellent work!"

So all in all, a very effective exercise for reasons other than our initial objectives. Yes we've slimmed down our mailing list a bit - our open and click through rates should be higher in future as a result, however we've engaged positively with some of our most dedicated fans and customers, we've learned more about the people on our subscriber list, we've been made to feel really, really good by loads of customers and we have a load of positive reviews for future marketing.

I call that a job well done!

So over to you. Have you ever done anything like this? What was the result?

If you haven't why might you not dare to take the plunge?

Author's avatar

By Marie Page

Marie Page @marie_page is one of the UK’s leading Facebook marketing experts. She is a founding partner of digital marketing consultancy The Digiterati and the Digiterati Academy, an e-learning portal for marketers and entrepreneurs. She recently published a book and online course “Winning at Facebook Marketing with Zero Budget”.

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