Personalization With Boundaries: When to Give Your Mailing List Space
Tom Havin
Tom Havin

Personalization With Boundaries: When to Give Your Mailing List Space

Tom Havin, Growth Manager


By now you know that effective personalization means more than subbing in someone’s first name in an email. Developing a personalization strategy and employing tools that offer custom content to your users are key to building a strong relationship with them. But how do you know when it’s time to give your mailing list some space?

An email marketer’s worst fear is someone hitting the “unsubscribe” button, effectively severing the relationship. Marketers lose a lot more than just an email recipient — all of the information you know about the user’s preferences is now non-actionable. It’s like being dumped online, and it can feel like there’s nothing you can do about it. But there are steps you can take to avoid people unsubscribing in the first place.

Quality over quantity

Companies like CIO, Chamaileon, and Constant Contact say that most people unsubscribe because they’re being offered content that isn’t relevant to them. Imagine buying a shirt from a company and instead of being offered a promo code for a pair of matching pants, you get an ad for a toilet plunger. Unless you’re in dire need of a plunger, this is going to seem tone-deaf and irrelevant. Unsubscribe!

Chamaileon and Constant Contact also report that another reason people opt-out is too many emails. No matter how personalized and “valuable” your emails may be, too many of them can be a turn-off. Some people may love an inbox full of personalized offers, but others may see it as an oppressive invasion of privacy.

With great power (data) comes great responsibility

Speaking of privacy, your personalized emails can inadvertently remind the recipient about how much of their data is available to brands and advertisers. Many users don’t realize or remember that with every newsletter, loyalty rewards card, and online quiz they sign up for, they are volunteering personal data.

Accenture found that 40% of people are creeped out by mobile app notifications that are sent based on geolocation (when you are next to their store) and 35% of people dislike seeing online ads for items they were browsing for on social media.

While it’s true that while 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who provide relevant offers, companies should wield their power carefully — not every email should have as many data points as Spotify’s Year in Review email.

"91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who provide relevant offers"

Personalization Pulse Check by Accenture

Mollie Powles of UK-based Browser Media nailed it in her Hubspot blog post: “Our [consumer’s] right to privacy is invisible, inaudible and intangible,” and that’s why the onus is on the company to ensure they don’t cross the line.

So how do you draw that line? Your users expect and appreciate personalized content, but flexing your personalization muscle too much or too often risks alienating them. I’d love to give you a fail-proof answer to this question, but the reality is that trial and error are the keys to success here.

Be transparent

Give your audience the choice to control what they receive. In the age of GDPR and CCPA, it’s never been more important to be transparent. Don’t be afraid to email your subscribers reminding them of the emails they signed up for and how they came to join the distribution in the first place.

Transparency can be scary — going to your subscribers and telling them in layman’s terms how you are using their data to better advertise to them isn’t easy, but it’s the right thing to do. Proactively giving them control of their subscription choices will help prevent future unsubscribes. And this doesn’t have to happen often!

Suggesting that email recipients review their settings once every six months should be enough. While some may opt out from certain types of emails, those who stayed created a stronger audience segment. A person who subscribes to fewer emails is infinitely more valuable than a person who unsubscribed from all of them.

Another thought: If you do send a lot of personalized emails, give people the option to opt out of personalized emails instead of unsubscribing. This doesn’t mean you have to stop collecting their data, and it will make them feel more at ease.

Final thoughts

Losing a subscriber isn’t the end of the world, but enough of them can really set back your marketing strategy — and often indicate a disconnect between you and your users. By giving your mailing list space and thinking through the kind of content they’ll really find valuable, you create opportunities for deeper, more meaningful relationships with your brand.

Digging Deeper into Personalization

Want to learn more about how you can use personalization to enhance your mobile retention and engagement strategies? Stay tuned for the next two articles in our ‘Personalization Series’:

  • Put The “Personal” Back In Personalization”  by Rebecca Nackson, Director of Growth Services
  • Personalization Beyond Messaging by Robert O’Dowd, Growth Manager