Gmail’s Automated Unsubscribe: A Blind Spot in Email Marketing

With 1.5 billion users and counting, it is unsurprising that Gmail’s “unsubscribe” pop-up feature gave marketers something to worry about when it was introduced to help users declutter their inbox. B2B marketers should take note: though Microsoft Office still dominates Fortune 500 companies, more companies are adopting G-suite as the workforce becomes increasingly populated by younger adults who used it in school and choose Gmail as their primary email client.

Gmail’s automated unsubscribe pop-up functions by reminding the user that they haven’t opened any emails from a specific sender in over 30 days, and prompts them to unsubscribe without having opened a single email. While email churn in B2B is normal and even expected by most marketers over a 12 month period, automated unsubscribe pop-ups like these create a huge blind spot in a campaign: marketers may never find out exactly what triggered the lack of engagement and could also lose the opportunity to get critical feedback on their content.

Thankfully, all is not lost: marketers can use the 30 day timeline generated by the unsubscribe feature as a way to segment contact lists more effectively, develop campaigns that re-align content with the customer’s position in the sales cycle, and eliminate fake sign-ups.

B2B Email Unsubscribe: A win-win?

Google declared its unsubscribe feature a win-win situation for both users and marketers. Users get an easy option to cut unwanted promotional email and are spared the trouble of looking for the elusive “unsubscribe” link, which is sometimes buried somewhere in the body of the email. Benefits on the marketing side are slightly more dubious. While marketing emails are less likely to be marked as spam, automated unsubscribe raises a red flag to B2B marketers already dealing with high levels of email attrition.

A 2018 study by NeverBounce revealed that B2B email addresses had a 21.07% attrition rate, compared to just 3.22% for B2C. B2B email tends to have a higher churn rate for a variety of reasons: turnover, company mergers, or department changes. In our experience, it can take years to build a substantial subscriber list with only 2 years to market to those clients. An automated unsubscribe pop-up may compound this issue and narrow the 2 year window – a solid reason for marketers to rethink and further enhance their email campaigns.

Learn from your Email Churn

Gmail’s automated unsubscribe does not have to be seen as a problem, but as an opportunity to step up your email game. Typically, an unsubscribe click in an email leads to a page where the contact can indicate if their place in the buying cycle is misaligned with the content they are receiving, or if the content is simply not worth opening. Though the Gmail feature forecloses the possibility of getting this data, it also functions as a tool to weed out unwanted contacts. Easy unsubscribe options can actually support ongoing data cleansing practices: clearing out inactive subscribers, low-quality leads, and “bots” that may have entered your list through an online form.

The 30 day time-frame can also be a handy benchmark for identifying and isolating contacts at risk of disengaging. As a proactive measure, marketers can isolate inactive subscribers approaching 30 days and refrain from sending further emails until a re-engagement strategy is put into place.

Think Outside the Inbox: Re-Engage Your Subscribers

Re-engaging prospects at risk of unsubscribing within a short 30-day timeframe is a challenge that starts with regular analysis and reporting. For example, using a data dictionary can help marketers understand how much and what kind of information is stored about their prospects. Reports on bounce backs, open rate, and email frequency will also give a sense of what negative impact an email program might be having. Isolating at risk prospects from day-to-day marketing activities will also help to maintain the quality of marketing data.

From here, marketers must decide how to re-approach the contact using email or alternative channels. For example, if the contact is not seeing your emails because they are being filtered, you might try approaching them through social media. This strategy would drive traffic back to your landing pages where they can access useful gated content by leaving an email address they are likely to check afterwards. If re-engagement is achieved, monitoring these contacts and scoring them will help you get a better sense of their place in the buyer cycle and how you can more effectively nurture by aligning your content with their needs.

Make Sure your Messaging Gets Across

The Gmail automated unsubscribe feature ushers in business challenges that will compel marketers to re-think their email programs and find new opportunities for getting their messaging across. With the time and resources invested in creating high-quality, relevant, and useful content, it is critical for marketers to ensure that their messaging gets exposed to their target audience. This way, the contact can be the one to truly determine whether or not the content they are receiving is right for them – not an automated inbox. Continuous A/B testing with your subject lines to figure out what kinds of emails work, communicating at an appropriate frequency if you are emailing by the batch, and targeting the segments of your contact lists that need the most attention are essential to circumventing the risks that will only increase as other email service providers follow suit with Gmail unsubscribe.

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