To Opt-in or Out, That is the Question
By George Anderson
Companies involved in email marketing face the question of which is the best way to go when developing contact lists — should customers be required to opt-out of receiving online communications or is it better to have them choose to opt-in for mailings.
Seth Godin, author of several books, including Permission Marketing and All Marketers Are Liars, is a firm believer in opt-in as the way to go. “[Companies] are moving away from the eyeball game to finding the qualified people who are interested in their products and services. One way is to go to a singles bar and propose to everyone you meet; another is to go on a date and build up from there. Opt-out is like going to the singles bar.”
Some companies that developed extensive contact lists using the opt-out method are now questioning if they should convert to an opt-in process, considering the impact it will have on their email marketing efforts.
Don Peppers, co-founder of the Peppers and Rodgers Group, writing for Inside 1 to 1 concludes it’s natural to see list size decrease when going from opt-out to opt-in. “Whereas a company might have thought that 200,000 customers wanted to hear from them on a regular basis, many shudder when learning, after the switch, that the actual number may be closer to 15,000. That’s the reason, most experts believe, why opt-out has been relatively slow to take hold.”
While downsizing a mailing list can be scary for companies, Mr. Peppers suggests, “The right way to think about it is that while your opt-out list may show 200,000 ‘customers,’ the vast majority of them are for all practical purposes inactive. What does it really cost you to reduce your communications to inactive customers?”
According to Mr. Peppers, there is a right and wrong way to go about transitioning from an opt-out to opt-in model.
Among the right way practices are providing “meaningful incentives for customers to reaffirm that they still want to hear from you.”
Alan Chapell, president of privacy consultancy Chapell & Associates, said companies should also consider that opt-in or out doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. “Maybe it’s not a question of yes or no, but rather one of how much and when.”
Peppers and Rodgers’ other cofounder, Martha Rodgers, Ph.D., agrees. “Instead of an on-off switch, it should be a volume dial. Customers should be able to pick and choose what, when, how, and how frequently they want to be contacted.”
Moderator’s Comment: What is the best method for driving sales through email marketing — opt-out, opt-in or a combination? What recommendations would
you make to a company looking to make the transition from an opt-out only model? –
George Anderson – Moderator