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The Real Questions You Should Be Asking about Your Unsubscribes (It’s Probably Not What You’re Thinking)

personas final

It’s just rude, really. First someone gives you their email address, an open invitation to communicate with them (legally speaking, anyway), so you spend your valuable time crafting a message to impart critical information about your worthwhile and interesting work. Maybe it’s a deal they would be foolish to pass up. Maybe it’s an invitation to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Or possibly it’s a sneak peek at exciting, new developments. You choose every word from the subject line to the salutation with care. You pare down the packaging and the language until you have a product that is both respectful of the recipient’s time and captivating enough to be worth the interruption. And finally, because you are legally required, unimaginable as the situation may be, you include a link in the smallest font possible: “unsubscribe.” It is an offering to show that you are playing by the rules of game, but nobody would actually click that link, because after all, they opted-in.

We all know the end of the story. They click that link. And so do 149 other people. One hundred and fifty cold, graceless ingrates, who were probably raised by wolves, as that is the only explanation for their incivility. To think there could be such casual disregard of manners in the world is shocking, but to realize it anew with every email send is flat out disheartening.

There are generally two common responses to this inevitability. One group, the cynics, fights ice with ice, and closes themselves to the humanity of the marketing world. They accept that they can’t please all of the people all of the time and analyze unsubscribe rates with ruthless logic, only changing their marketing behavior when the rate exceeds a predetermined threshold. A more naïve group, the dreamers, plucky to a fault, pick themselves off the ground after each wave of unsubscribes determined that in each is a lesson that will guide them to the perfect message for their restaurant’s would-be diners.

As it turns out, both reactions can be misguided, because without more information, it is hard to know the cause of any unsubscribe. We understand that variables such as industry, location, type of message, and time of day affect open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribes, but these benchmarks only help us to fine-tune strategy reactively. However, in the massive amount of data we can now collect and analyze, there lies an opportunity to give context and value to the numbers analyzed by the cynics, and give targeted, proactive insights to the dreamers: personas. Personas are identities that group guests together based on similarities in behaviors, demographics, and psychographics, and as such, they give context to marketing metrics through this personal data.

In the year since implementing a Persona marketing strategy, one Fishbowl client saw the unsubscribe rate for Personas drop to 0.05% compared to the overall unsubscribe rate of 0.07%.  As for other marketing benchmarks, the open rate for emails sent to the largest persona by net sales jumped 33% (24% up from 18%) and the open rate for the second largest persona jumped 61% (29% up from 18%).

Personas enable a better analysis of messaging performance by highlighting trends. Most companies have the data to approximate the impact of unsubscribes by looking at the historical spend of these members, and they might have the demographic and behavior information to start to look at cause. Perhaps most recent unsubscribes are over 50 (does our brand cater to a younger segment?), or perhaps the member data shows that recent unsubscribes are typically dinner diners (has recent messaging focused on lunch specials?). The more data that can be tied to individual records, the more options marketers have to hone in on a likely explanation of observations.

Honing in on a cause requires a lot of data—preferably all that is available. In order to draw reliable conclusions, there must be sufficient data for a robust statistical analysis (an internet search of “correlation does not imply causation” will yield many examples of the trouble of finding causation from data) By aggregating the disparate sources of data in the restaurant industry into personas, we can look at many factors at once and draw practical conclusions about unsubscribe trends. Imagine the 50+ year-old unsubscribes mentioned above. If we pull together demographic data on age and family, and behavior data on average check, party size, and daypart, we are likely to see profiles emerge. Perhaps couples dining alone with high check sizes and expensive wine selections make up one half of that age group, while the other half consists of diners in large groups with checks that heavily favor chicken tenders and mac and cheese. The “elite empty nesters” behave in-store differently than the grandparents who are taking the grandkids out for a night so the parents can rest, and they probably have different expectations for your messaging too.

Depending on the amount of data available and the size of the investment in creating personas, these profiles can be used to examine many more variables at once, including media preference, competitor preference, average income, hobbies, and more. This enables marketers to treat the question of unsubscribes not as “who did I lose?” and “should I care?”, but rather as “why did each person unsubscribe?” and “what can I do to better communicate with that persona?” As recently as 2013, 35.4% of email unsubscribers said they did so because emails were sent too frequently, and another 14% of unsubscribers said they were tired of the brand. When brands target multiple segments, as they usually do, it is difficult to communicate a tailored brand image to each, especially without sending a tiresome number of messages. With personas, not only can you better evaluate the impact of your marketing strategy in context, but you can segment your communication based on a deeper understanding of each guest’s needs in order to maximize the potential benefit of the most delicate opportunities.

So when you are trying to figure out why the campaign promoting the new “Taste of Italy” wine pairing menu was successful in driving traffic in the 50+ group but also caused substantial unsubscribes in that same group, understand that Grandma isn’t interested in learning how to pronounce “bruschetta,” and she sure as hell doesn’t want to deal with the mess that the rambunctious rugrats will make trying to eat it. She will take that glass of wine, though.