How to Keep Your Email Prospects from Unsubscribing


Good news marketers: time spent looking at email by white collar Americans is up 17% year-over-year. It’s consumers’ preferred method of receiving marketing offers and email usage is expected to keep going up.

Things look rosy for email marketers. So once you’ve attracted subscribers, how do you hold on to them and keep them from unsubscribing to their mailing list?

Computer Software Company Adobe, digital marketing firm Fluent, email marketing platform BlueHornet and marketing data firm conducted some recent studies on people responding to marketing emails to shed some light on the subject of unsubscribes. Here is a summary of their results.

Annoyed Americans

People can be annoyed by email offers. Respondents in the Adobe survey were most annoyed by the frequency of emails (47%), the main culprit responsible for unsubscribes coming up several times in Adobe’s research. The second reason was poorly written emails (25%).

A report by Fluent on consumer email perceptions nailed that annoyance down. Thirty-five percent of their survey respondents (Americans ages 18-65+) said frequency was their main reason for unsubscribing. How often would consumers like to receive marketing emails? Fluent found indications that close to 6 in 10 wanted emails at least once a week and 1 in 5 wanted them more than twice a week.

Other annoying email characteristics reported by Fluent: too much personalization (16%) or lack of personalization (9%).

Not annoying but nevertheless something that can reduce your open rate is relevancy. Less than 25% of emails are not worth opening, according to Fluent’s survey analysis.

A study conducted by BlueHornet, an email service provider, supported the frequency annoyance factor. They found frequency to be the top reason behind unsubscribing behavior. Their study also found that 4 in 10 respondents could be persuaded to stay on a company’s email list after they decided to unsubscribe if given the option to receive emails less frequently.

BlueHornet’s study also found that 44% of respondents prefer to hear from companies that send marketing and advertising emails on a weekly (44%) basis, although almost one-quarter preferred to receive them more frequently than weekly.

Promotional Emails Impact Millennials More

When it comes to how promotional emails influence purchasing decisions, Millennials beat out older consumers considerably. But as a consumer age demographic on their own, Millennials were about evenly split on admitting that email either affected or didn’t affect their decisions.

A Fluent study showed that 26% of the 18-34 group say promotional emails impact their purchase decisions most or all of the time. Compare that with the 35-and-older crowd where just 16% said emails were their top influencers.

But looking at other Fluent data on just Millennials the data is all over the place. Those claiming emails never impacted their decisions was 32%, slightly higher than the 26% that said they rely on those emails most or all of the time to make purchasing decisions. When the 35-and-older group was asked that same question, they were more than twice as likely to say they are never impacted than to claim they were impacted most or all of the time (36% vs. 16%).

Comparing Email to Other Channels

When comparing the level of impact of emails to other digital channels, email was the winner again with Millennials, but the numbers were still close, based on’s own primary research: 48% saying it impacted their purchases at least some of the time; social media was 44%, followed by ads on news and entertainment sites at 44%, and finally promotional text messages at 42%.

Which generation gets the nod for being most influenced to make a purchase in the last six months? Opt-in emails beat social media ads with Millennials. Gen Xers (35-55) were close behind, then Baby Boomers (52-70), and then Tradionalists (70+).

The generation group most influenced by email marketing, according to Gen Xers, closely followed by Millennials.

What the Results Tell Us about Email Marketing

If you roll up all of the reports together, there are some important conclusions to consider when you’re preparing your messages:

  • Email marketing is holding its own and growing, more than social media and other digital channels.
  • Email marketing usage is the preferred channel for marketing offers.
  • Consumers are most annoyed by the frequency of promotional emails, followed by poorly written emails.
  • About one-third of consumers unsubscribe because they’re annoyed at too frequent emails
  • More than half of consumers prefer emails at least once a week.
  • More Millennials and Gen Xers are impacted by email most or all of the time to make purchase decisions.
  • Compared to other digital marketing channels, opt-in email impacts purchases more than social media, ads, and text messages.

How to Reduce Your Unsubscribes

So, how do all these numbers help you knock down the number of unsubscribes?

  • Don’t annoy people with excessive emails; email once or twice a week – no more.
  • Ask unsubscribes to come back by offering to reduce their email frequency.
  • Emails should be well-written and relevant.
  • Avoid over-personalizing emails but don’t avoid making them somewhat personal.
  • Unless your brand is a better fit for a different audience, target your messages to Millennials and Gen Xers; they’re more likely to make a purchase.