Managing Opt-Outs

There are many schools of thought surrounding how to manage opt-outs.  With so many companies managing multiple systems for email purposes, keeping opt-out files consistent and up-to-date can be a nightmare, especially if you add in acquisition through third parties.  Here are some of the big issues that most email marketers will struggle with -- most just mumbling about; few are talking publicly since CAN SPAM gained notoriety in 2003.

Line of Business Opt-out.  Defined as, you are providing a very specific opportunity for the consumer to opt-in/out to a specific business, publication, program, and/or brand.  For instance, if you opt-out from P&G Brand Savers, do you opt-out from Charmin and IAMS dog food email programs? Did you get 7+ emails when you signed up for MediaPost?  Should you offer the consumer a global opt-out mechanism or the opportunity to opt-out to each type of communications?  How do you honor opt-outs if your statements to the consumer are ambiguous? 



This alone has been a huge issue with many of our clients that are expanding their email programs. Not just for the processing side, but answering the business rule when you can't see two or three years out.   It's become even less clear when they incorporate marketing components into transactional messages (messages from product purchases) and you bring in the "grey" area we talk about in the email land.

So, who does it well?  Depends on how you define "well." Is it efficient for processing's sake so you don't spend your time trying to figure this out, rather than on being creative with your marketing programs?  Or is it really a value to the consumer, who will actively manage this.  Do you really manage your email subscriptions for business or personal?  Not many do it well, especially skewing this email audience.

In the publishing world, this is relatively simple. Each publication is unique, therefore the permission is clear.  But when you blend product, service, support and multiple brands, and domestic and international audiences, sales channels and channel partners, this can get rather muddled to understand, much less govern..  In the brand, product and service situation, you typically have several layers of customer "on-boarding" that's involved.  It might start with a newsletter sign-up, then a purchase, then get them more involved with a frequent purchase or customer specific loyalty programs.  (MyCoke Rewards, My Sony, Babycenter, Barnes & Noble and Lexus are good examples of this). 

Regardless of the lifecycle stages, it bodes well for an organization to think past the "today" when developing these programs, thinking of what the possible "tracks" of communications are that your consumers may prefer or not prefer, and whether the effort aligns with value for the consumer. 

Another challenge is managing opt-out lists when you go external.  I have a firm belief in the value of this, if you've ever decided to do email acquisition, which in the past was a very scary proposition for the novice.  "I have to hand over my opt-out file to a list company? Are you nuts!  They will just add it to their database and send away."

The fact is, delivery reputation far outweighs any business value in the misuse of these lists.  List owners or affiliate marketers just can't afford to take on bad files of consumers that they know hit the "report spam" button.  I didn't really believe this till recently, when I spoke to a list owner that said they would almost give away email delivery to a company (for transactional messages), just so they could raise their delivery reputation.  This cost is minimal relative to the business value their lead generation programs would yield by not getting filtered.

This can still be a daunting task to manage.  Remember, each list you rent or lead generation program you enter will require your opt-out file, updated weekly, and then  ensure you indemnify them in case you are mistaken in this processing.  As a matter of fact, a colleague has this struggle today on a list a bunch of email marketers belong to.  One of the easy answers is Unsub Central. It has a unique service that focuses on helping organizations build an infrastructure/service that supports their growing programs, opt-out requirements and overall compliance and governance.  

"Think next year, plan next month, act today and optimize yesterday" -- and you'll likely stay ahead of the driving issues of our channel.



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