Opting-in to your Opt-Outs

Examining your opt-outs and withdrawals to gain insight on prospect retention

As colleges are gearing up their email marketing plans for the upcoming enrollment season, it’s important to keep in mind that your audience of prospective students will be receiving dozens of similar emails a week. While it’s important to make sure that your email isn’t the one that breaks the camel’s back, finding yourself in that position can be enlightening and actually elevate your strategy.

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The idea of opting-out has gained quite a negative reputation in the marketing world, and although it’s sad to see customers go, the usefulness of the information gained from opt-outs is highly underrated. Although sifting through your lists may seem tedious and at times even painstakingly boring, it provides you and your colleagues with insight on your email practices, how to improve your campaigns and prevent future losses.

We’ve examined three of our client’s opt-out lists and want to share with you our findings as well as our suggestions on how to improve your campaigns based on these opt-outs.

Here are the statistics based on the comments that were left when opting out of each of the three schools.

On average, 64% of people left a reason when opting out, which left us with quite a bit of information to work with.

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You’ll notice there were far fewer reasons left for opting out at school C, the reason for this is because it was a much smaller school with a smaller opt-out list, but the reasons for unsubscribing were still almost identical. The similarity among the three schools is undeniable.

The most popular reason people (almost 1/3) stated they unsubscribed from the list was because they were planning on attending or deposited to another school. This isn’t the worst thing in the world – as admissions professionals we’re prepared for this to happen.

The second largest reason that left 26% of people unsubscribing is because they were not interested in the school or didn’t plan on applying. This is a kicker—either students were at one point interested and became uninterested, or they never asked to be on the list and names were purchased. Although emails are cheap to send, admissions directors can save money by slimming down their lists and in turn slimming down the fees associated and the number of people that become uninterested and even upset with the constant stream of emails.

A spike in opt-outs may suggest either a change in your email strategy that didn’t go over well, an e-mail blast that wasn’t targeted as well as it should have been, or even may have just been the result of too many messages.

Adjusting your strategy is the only real solution. This could mean building stronger subject lines, taking a step back and analyzing the visual content of the email, or sending more targeted emails only when they are applicable. Learn from your opt-outs.

It goes without saying that, much as product reviews tend to skew to end users on the far ends of the opinion spectrum, your opt-outs are only a reflection of a certain type of recipient of your materials, and the volume of opt-outs needs to be considered against the entire communication pool to really have a clear understanding of root causes.

Still, where we can identify nearly 90% of the opt-outs in this study as belonging to the previously mentioned categories, the occasional one-off comment can also warrant consideration. In one opt-out we reviewed, a frustrated student indicated a communication breakdown concerning financial aid. The student claimed to have requested, and not received, financial aid specifically for her student type (adult learner). A review of the record confirmed this to be the case, and as such, an automated alert was created for these kinds of inquiries to ensure that they aren’t neglected. Thanks to a single opt-out narrative, the school vastly improved an area of their prospect fulfillment.

Take a step back and look at what your audience is saying. In most cases what is hiding behind the email outputs is telling and should be useful to your campaigns. Determine when is the most appropriate time to reach out, and provide your students with something of value to them. Is your call-to-action clear? As long as you know your audience, you will have all the tools to provide them with useful material, but the first step in getting to know your audience is learning what your target audience is looking for, and without examining your email opt outs you will have missed a very useful opportunity.