Man leans on an email with a broken heart.

How to Lose a Subscriber in 10 Days

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True or false? All is fair in love and email. Well, I’m not sure about love, but playing fair as an email marketer is probably your best move.

The truth is, there are strong similarities between a dating relationship and the connections you create with customers through the inbox. The one-and-only Seth Godin noted this when he wrote the groundbreaking book, Permission Marketing, almost 25 years ago.

“Permission marketing is just like dating. It turns strangers into friends and friends into lifelong customers. Many of the rules of dating apply, and so do many of the benefits.”

Seth Godin, Author, Permission Marketing

Email is the OG form of permission marketing – at least when it’s done right. There are plenty of ways to mess things up with your subscribers. Here’s our top 10 list with a little help from Hollywood.

10 ways to lose your email subscribers

In the classic romantic comedy, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) takes on an article writing assignment in which she purposefully tries to get dumped. Her target ends up being Benjamin Barry (Matthew McConaughey), who just happens to make a bet that he can make Andie fall in love with him. Neither of them knows what the other is up to, and hilarity ensues.

Okay, first of all, Andie Anderson and Ben Barry? It’s already an A/B test. If you’ve never seen the movie, or need a quick refresher, watch the trailer below. Then we’ll get into more email stuff.

Of course, this is a romantic comedy, which means… **SPOILER ALERT** The story has a happy ending.

The problem is, you’re an email marketer in real life, not the movies. If you make the same mistakes a horrible date makes, your email engagement rates will plummet while spam complaints climb and unsubscribes skyrocket. Sounds more like an email marketing tragedy than a rom-com, doesn’t it?

Sometimes, understanding what not to do and why is just as helpful as following best practices. Let’s look at the most effective ways to lose email subscribers through the lens of a dating relationship.

1. Too much too soon

Are you guilty of coming on too strong with new email contacts? It’s easy to get excited at the start of a new relationship but overdoing it can be overwhelming for both dates and subscribers.

When someone subscribes and invites you into their inbox, it’s a lot like bringing a date into your home. Are you suddenly filling up a new subscriber’s inbox with unexpected messages that come all at once? That’s probably not a good idea. It’s a bit like redecorating your date’s apartment and filling up their bathroom with your personal hygiene products. You’re demanding attention and taking up too much space.

Imagine someone opts in to your emails and they get a welcome message, onboarding emails, your latest newsletter, the weekly promotion, a customer feedback request, and a product launch update – all in a short amount of time. That’s the email marketing equivalent of a clingy date who overshares and moves too fast. Who wouldn’t want to unsubscribe?

Our email marketing relationship advice

Be mindful of what you send to new subscribers in the beginning. Consider segmenting these contacts to isolate them from other campaigns and automations as they go through your welcome series.

Using a double opt-in process is also a smart move for list building. It means new contacts must first confirm their intent to subscribe, which shows they’re just as committed to the relationship as you are. An email preference center is another effective way to let subscribers set some boundaries in the relationship between your brand and their inboxes.

2. It’s always about you

The Carly Simon song “You’re So Vain” plays a big role in the film How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Andie and Ben end up singing their own version of the song as everything falls apart, embarrassing themselves in front of a stunned audience.

While both characters in the movie can be a little vain, in most relationships, vanity is one-sided. Sometimes we’re guilty of something similar as email marketers. We make everything we send about our brand, our products, our story. No one likes a date who only talks about themselves, and no one wants to read an email like that either. People will be looking for that unsubscribe link just like a date looking for an excuse to leave early.

Our email marketing relationship advice

The idea of putting subscribers at the center of your email program is easier to understand than to execute. When your goal as a marketer is to promote and convert, it’s hard not to talk up your brand and all it offers. Much like a date, you’re sort of trying to sell yourself.

At the same time, you’ve also got to show subscribers that you care. What can you send that answers questions, solves problems, entertains, or empathizes with the people on your list? It’s all about context. Think of your emails as a way to serve and support subscribers.

For some insights on making your customers the heroes of your communication strategy, check out the ebook, The omnichannel hero’s journey from Sinch Mailjet.

3. You don’t meet their needs

What’s worse than being in a relationship where someone just doesn’t get you? It’s not that you necessarily have to like the same things. But the person you date should be interested in you and want to do things that make you happy.

In How to Lose a Guy in 10 days, Andie tries to sabotage the fake relationship by purposefully making Ben’s life a living hell. That includes forcing things on him that he doesn’t want or enjoy – like taking him to a vegan restaurant, presenting him with a “love fern,” and buying him a sweater-wearing, hairless dog.

When you batch-and-blast email campaigns to every contact on your list, you’re bound to have quite a few with no interest in what you’re sending. If subscribers get enough emails with irrelevant content and offers… “Enough!” is exactly what they’ll say. And they unsubscribe.

Our email marketing relationship advice

The more you make email a one-to-one channel, the better it gets. One way to show subscribers you can meet their needs and deliver something relevant is through list segmentation. When you focus on specific groups of subscribers, your offers and messaging will be on point.

As you take the relationship further and really get to know subscribers, you can make email campaigns even more relevant with personalization. While name personalization is a good first step, what you really want to do is personalize emails with things like recommendations based on past purchases or other zero- and first-party data you collect.

4. You’re a boring date

In the beginning of a relationship, everything is new and exciting. Eventually, however, couples fall into routines, the romance starts to fizzle, and everything gets… well, boring. Andie and Ben never really reach this point, but I’m still holding out hope for the sequel: How to Win Her Back in 10 Days.

Your relationship with subscribers can lose its spark too. Here’s the thing. It’s not them, it’s you. Do your promotional offers look pretty much the same from month to month? Have people stopped opening your email newsletters? Was George W. Bush still president the last time you freshened up your email template designs?

These are signs you need to change things up unless you want to lose subscribers.

Our email marketing relationship advice

One way to spice up a stale relationship? A little experimentation if you know what I mean. And I mean A/B testing, of course. As you explore new ways to connect and engage with subscribers, make sure you’re testing and analyzing results to find out what really resonates. Don’t be afraid to take chances on things like creative CTA copy, drastically different imagery, or interactive elements in email.

5. You’re a total mess

Everyone wants to make a good impression on a date. You don’t show up looking like a slob, you check your breath, and you have decent manners. If your date arrives looking like they just rolled out of bed, it feels like they couldn’t be bothered to check the mirror before they left the house.

While looks certainly aren’t everything, you want to show people you care enough to keep up appearances. When HTML emails show up with layout or display problems because of email client rendering issues, subscribers may also wonder if you actually care.

Broken emails are a bad experience. Send enough of them and recipients are bound to get tired of it and hit unsubscribe.

Our email marketing relationship advice

Pre-send email testing is the email marketing version of checking yourself in the mirror one last time before you head out on a date. At Sinch Email on Acid, our platform delivers previews of your campaign from more than 100 clients and live devices. That’s how you make sure your emails look just as good in Outlook as they do in Gmail and Apple Mail.

You can also use Email on Acid to catch other problems before you hit send. That includes spelling errors, accessibility issues, inbox display, and more. It’s quality assurance (QA) for the email team. Because love means never having to send an “oops email.”

6. The parents don’t approve

When Ben takes Andie to meet his family, it actually goes well. It’s one of the signs that things are probably going to work out between these two. Meeting the parents is a big deal in any relationship. When Mom and Dad don’t approve, it makes everything a lot harder.

So, who are the parents of the email marketing world? It’s mailbox providers. We all behave ourselves when we know parents are watching (even as adults), and mailbox providers are definitely watching. 

Services like Gmail and Yahoo Mail pay attention to what you’re up to, and they assign a score known as your sender reputation. The worse your reputation is with mailbox providers, the less likely it is that your emails will reach the inbox. Mailbox providers are just like protective parents. They want to keep the bad guys (spammers and scammers) out of the inbox. The more you keep subscribers engaged with what you’re sending, the more mailbox providers see you as a good match for their users.

Our email marketing relationship advice

Achieving consistent inbox placement requires that you understand email deliverability best practices. While some of those things are highly technical, there are many other things you can do to improve deliverability as a marketer.

In 2024, it will be very important to follow new bulk sender guidelines from Gmail and Yahoo. They include the use of email authentication protocols, a one-click unsubscribe process, and the expectation of keeping your spam complaint rate under 0.1%. Find out much more in this on-demand webinar with Gmail and Yahoo.

7. You let the relationship die

The opposite of coming on too strong with new subscribers is totally ghosting them. For example if you don’t have a way to welcome someone who just joined your list, it feels a little like a rejection. Email subscribers need a little TLC if you want them to be engaged with what you’re sending.

In the movie, Andie makes the perfect analogy with the “love fern” she gives to Ben. She tells him it’s something you need to care for and nurture, just like a relationship. That happens in email marketing too. We literally have email nurture campaigns. While getting too many emails is the top reason people unsubscribe, sending them emails too infrequently can also cause problems.

Our email marketing relationship advice

Don’t wait too long to make first contact with new subscribers. If they forget who you are and why they opted in, people could easily mark your emails as spam or unsubscribe.

If you use email to nurture leads and new subscribers, start by sending them things that are useful. Planning your email marketing strategy around the customer journey is a good way to make sure you’re there for subscribers at key moments. Love ferns need water and sunlight. What do your subscribers need?

8. You’re hard to read

When your date is hard to read, you can’t figure out what they’re thinking or feeling. When an email campaign is hard to read, your message doesn’t get across at all.

A date who is accessible might be considered approachable, honest, and open-minded while an inaccessible person is closed off and cold. Inaccessible emails can feel the same way. If subscribers can’t read or engage with your email, what’s the point? Focusing on email accessibility will keep people from unsubscribing.

Our email marketing relationship advice

From color contrast and font size to writing alt tags and using semantic HTML, there are a lot of things to consider when improving email accessibility. The good news is that many of these improvements don’t take much work at all, but they can make a huge difference.

9. You pull a bait-and-switch

Have you ever been in a relationship (or subscribed to a brand’s emails) and found your self saying “I never signed up for this.” Nobody likes being deceived and manipulated. The bait-and-switch is a sneaky marketing tactic, and it’s no good if you want to build trust with subscribers.

There’s a point in the movie where Andie makes Ben think she’s taking him to a NY Knicks game, but they’re actually going to a Celine Dion concert. He puts up with it, because he’s trying to win a bet. Your subscribers, however, are not – and they won’t (put up with it).

Here’s an example of a bait-and-switch in email marketing: You write a deceptive, click-baity subject line and what’s inside ends up disappointing subscribers. Or maybe people sign up to get weekly tips and they end up receiving daily deals too. Transactional messages that are full of promotional copy and upsells are another form of email bait-and-switch.

Our email marketing relationship advice

As an email sender, you need to meet subscriber expectations and deliver on your promises. Keep disappointing and annoying people and they will either ignore your emails or unsubscribe. Neither of those options are good for business. They’ve trusted you enough to give you their contact information, now it’s your job to deliver something worth engaging with.

10. They never really wanted to date you

The “mic drop line” towards the end of this movie comes at the moment of romantic despair. Ben tells Andie, “You wanted to lose a guy in 10 days. Congratulations, you did it. You just lost him.” Her response?

“No I didn’t, Ben. Cuz you can’t lose something you never had.”

It’s a heartbreaking moment, but that line also serves as a wake-up call for many email senders. If you’re sending to people who never opted in, purchasing email lists, or scraping the web to add contacts, those subscribers were never yours in the first place. If these people simply try to unsubscribe, consider yourself lucky. Sending unsolicited email makes you a spammer. There’s no way around it.

Our email marketing relationship advice

You want people on your list who want to hear from you. That means you need to go about building your list in a way that’s both strategic and ethical (not to mention legal). It’s also important to understand that relationships come to an end. When people want to unsubscribe, just let them go. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

For some solid list building advice, check out this installment of Email Academy from Sinch Mailjet. Our email experts explain how you can find strategic places to add sign-up forms on your website and offer incentives that grow your subscriber base.

How to keep the email love alive

When someone fills out a form on your website and gives you permission to email them, it’s a sign of both trust and respect. You really are entering into a sort of relationship with your subscribers. You need to return the compliment by building on that trust and earning more respect.

So, here are 10 ways to show your email subscribers some respect:

  1. Get explicit consent (aka permission) before you start emailing them.
  2. Don’t overwhelm new contacts with too many messages.
  3. Put the emphasis on your subscribers, not your brand. And don’t be boring.
  4. Deliver value by sending emails that are relevant using segmentation and personalization.
  5. Preview your emails so you see how campaigns will render in different inboxes.
  6. Focus on email deliverability so your messages stay out of the spam folder.
  7. Nurture your contacts and keep them engaged between purchases with quality content.
  8. Prioritize email accessibility so every subscriber can enjoy your emails.
  9. Always keep your promises and avoid deceptive email marketing.
  10. Make it easy to unsubscribe so contacts can part ways with your emails when the time is right.

Now that you know how to create healthy, happy relationships with your email list, go out there and start making some more connections. We’re rooting for you!

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