Why Don't They Know What I Want?

Dear Email Diva,

I received this request to opt-in for email from [a well-known car rental company]. I am a long-time, loyal customer, and an all-too frequent traveler. But each and every time I rent online (as recently as two weeks ago), I decline their emails. On the one hand, it seems like a legitimate request, since I have an ongoing relationship with them. On the other, it's in complete disregard of my permission preferences.

Ruth Presslaff
Presslaff Interactive Revenue

Dear Ruth,

You say that you decline emails when you rent online, but, actually, what you do is fail to opt-in. It may sound like a different way to say the same thing, but, in the world of data, it's not. What likely happens is the site captures only those who do check the opt-in box, and sends their email address to the email database. They don't capture the negative preference, i.e., had the option and didn't check the box. As email becomes more important to the organization, they realize the fabulous ROI they get from email subscribers and want to grow the list. So they send requests, like the one you received, inviting customers to opt-in. They're not violating CAN SPAM, but they are annoying those who think the company should know their preferences, based on past behavior.

This was a problem at another company I worked with that ran many sweepstakes, each having an opt-in. If the customer opted in the first time but didn't the second, was that a request to opt out or did the customer think it unnecessary to opt in a second time? The problem can be solved with a profile page, but its requisite user name and password presents a barrier to the marketing message that a substantial portion of low-commitment customers will not leap. (It also requires you to ask all your customers to update their profiles, which is the email you received.)

This preference ambiguity is the reason I am a proponent of requesting negative preferences --what you don't want -- which I described in this article. With an opt-out, it's trickier -- we don't ever want to assume customers want our email; we want them to actively request it. One solution is to use radio buttons: send me email/don't send me email. This way, the intent is clear.

Mark Bronlow, of Email Marketing Reports in Vienna, Austria, is also a fan of negative preferences and alerted the Email Diva to another smart application of the idea: "At an email marketing workshop yesterday, Nikolaus von Graeve suggested an excellent and elegant solution for managing opt-outs. Instead of providing a standard opt-out link with each email, you could offer two opt-out links -- a standard universal one and one that lets the recipient opt-out just from "these kind of emails." Read the complete article, "Elegant Ways to Avoid Unsubscribes."

Wishing you a very clear crystal ball, flawless data and...

Good Luck!

The Email Diva



Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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