Trying to leave an email list – the good, the bad and the downright ugly

Recently I’ve done more virtual de-cluttering than ever before. Like you, I get a lot of emails. I’m sorry to say that I just don’t have the capacity (or in some cases, the will) to read them all.

Most of the time I don’t remember how I managed to share my email address with so many people wanting to send me not to be missed, limited edition, unique offers. Perhaps I didn’t actually opt in or not opt out to many of them. I suspect that is the case.

In January as part of that ‘new year, new start’ mentality I did a lot of unsubscribing. It’s been emotional. I’ve been receiving some of the emails for years and rarely opened one. I know I should have unsubscribed a long time ago but I didn’t. With a steely determination I removed myself from any email correspondence that;

  • Regularly fails to pique my interest to even open.
  • That’s irrelevant to me.
  • I don’t remember or didn’t really choose to opt in or out of (includes when I give my email in exchange for using wi-fi in a public place, for example I’m not interested in the news from my nearest airport – I just needed a wi-fi network so I could work while travelling.)
  • Makes me feel stalked. I only downloaded your white paper an hour ago and you are already emailing me to see what I thought if it. Back off.
  • Makes me feel creepy – I appreciate this is a fine line but telling me what the other people ‘like me’ bought, and what they did, in too much detail can make me feel a bit ‘creeped out’.

From a customer journey perspective it’s been rather fascinating. We take great care to welcome people who sign up to our correspondence but do we pay the same attention when someone wants to leave? Some unsubscribe links are practically impossible to find. Others, when you find and click on the link you get a screen that is the equivalent of sticking two virtual fingers up at the unsubscriber. Check this out. This was all it said!

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Some are just baffling.

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Others feel a bit more passive aggressive, ‘fine unsubscribe then, but we really can’t be bothered to action your request with any urgency so we may still send you emails for a bit anyway’. Like this.

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Just because someone isn’t interested now, doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future. Also many of us have multiple email addresses, or change emails relatively frequently when we change jobs. When people unsubscribe often it’s so they can re-subscribe once they have their new address in place, so best not to stick two virtual passive aggressive fingers up at them.

Others made me wonder if I was doing the right thing to end the relationship. Was it me not them? Excellent job Harvey Nichols.

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But for me the worst thing, is that three months later some of the lists I unsubscribed from ARE STILL SENDING ME EMAILS. One company’s unsubscribe link just took me back to their website. This does not make me want to buy more products from their website. This just makes me really cross and never want to buy anything from them again. Ever.

Our worlds include automation, but if in an automated world we forget that these systems are interacting with real life people it can have a bad impact on our brand and our relationships with our supporters and potential supporters.

You may have grappled with what the right balance is between automation and a real human touch. Everyone has an opinion on how frequently to email, which words to use and not to use in your subject lines, what days and times of day to send and how to segment your lists. I don’t know the answers for your list. All I know is that we learn by testing and that whilst we can do our best, everyone is different and until we can effectively respond to a segment of one, we will not get it right for everyone.

You probably receive your own marketing emails. (If you don’t I suggest you sign up) Have you experienced unsubscribing from your own list? How does it feel? How can you make that experience a pleasant and memorable one?

Greenpeace Russia tested an image of an owl (which was relevant to the email content) in their unsubscribe message. It reduced unsubscribes by 8%.


I’ve learnt a lot from my unsubscribing experience. Its made me think about my own emails; how can I make them better, how can I write them so people want to open them, how can they add value to people’s busy days? Are my subject lines boring? And finally when someone does muster the energy to unsubscribe – how is it for them?

I’m off to remove myself from Lucidity insights now. Feedback welcome.

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