Finding the Data Behind the Data: An Opt-out Investigation

I received a few emails this week from a client. He asked for some simple stats regarding opt-out rates to email campaigns year over year. After he realized the opt-outs were staying steady, he followed up with a slightly more probing question, trying to uncover which campaign the majority of the opt-outs came from. Reading between the lines, I began to see what he was trying to do.

My response, I’m sure, was not what he expected.

Essentially, he was looking for my data to verify his hypothesis: Campaign A caused more opt outs than Campaign B, therefore we need to stop or significantly decrease Campaign A to save our database. Now, to be clear, I am not vested in either campaign, but fundamentally his hypothesis is flawed. Data can be spun to tell any story you want, but by ignoring other key factors, he won’t be able to save his database or see more success from either campaign.

Compare apples to apples

First, ensure you are comparing the same foundational data. If you are looking into total opt-outs, you need to view that as a percentage of your total database size. Just because your opt-outs increased by thousands year over year doesn’t necessarily mean there is a problem. If you are a starting with a small database and were able to significantly grow your database by the tens of thousands, your opt-out percentage could actually be dropping.

Similarly, you need to compare frequency of campaigns. If you held steady in your total campaigns but saw an increase of opt-outs, you could have a problem. Conversely though, if you have doubled the number of touches, but held steady as a percentage opting out, your rates are actually improving.

Investigate the data in question

A good marketer knows the importance of sending relevant content to the targeted audience at the right time will lead to more successful campaigns. (More on this in another blog) But, assuming you’re already doing that, why would anyone want to stop receiving your fabulous marketing?

Who are they? Look into those people. Are you sure they are your target market? What about your target persona? If they aren’t, this isn’t a painful breakup. They won’t impact your business anyway and just they lower your response rate.

You should also consider how these names entered your database. What are the lead sources frequently opting out of your marketing? Are they completely cold leads imported in a mass file? Did the sales teams dump data into your database without warming them up? (We’ll investigate data governance at another time) If they don’t know you, your campaigns have just become awkward first dates. As we know, those are hard to recover from! Warm up nurture campaigns can help (talk to Mariana, she is a master at engaging your prospects) as well as data governance. Sometimes, however, your lead source can be the problem and you need to change your approach to database growth.


If you’re lucky, your organization has a wealth of great content to promote (if not, talk to us, because trust me when I say, Darcy is a content machine) and you have great information to share with your audience. As a marketer, we all know this isn’t always the case so when great content is available there can be a tendency to get a bit trigger happy and send it all out at once.

How many emails, in what timeframe had been received prior to the opt-out? Did you overwhelm your audience with goodness? What if you didn’t have anything to say in ages, and they had forgotten about you? Suddenly, you are back on a first date, trying to reintroduce yourself and you could have scared your audience away.

Get to the root of the problem

So I am in detective mode for my client now, answering these questions as to why Campaign A had more opt outs than Campaign B. As you can see now, it won’t a simple answer. As we get down the path, we will probably have to dig even deeper. All of these questions, however, will help fine tune their data governance policies, email frequency standards, and segmentation strategy. It will improve conversion rates long term and fill the funnel with highly engaged leads.

We call that a success!

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