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Baby Got Win-back: How to Market to Your Customers After They Opt Out


When it comes to online marketing, the focus usually gets put on one of two channels; acquisition or retention, with the former getting the most attention.

Though this is a typical approach, there’s a channel being left behind that could, if treated right, mean a boost in revenue for companies. That would be the win-backs.

The win-back channel strikes fear into the heart of many marketers. Money and time are not often allocated to it, and that’s understandable. There’s a different tact to be taken. The audience requires more finite segmentation—did they leave due to oversaturation, dissatisfaction or another reason? But in the long run, making an investment in your win-backs is something worth testing.

Want to give your win-back channel some love? Here are some suggestions:

If you love someone, let them unsubscribe

It’s pretty irritating when I receive an email, decide to unsubscribe, and then I’m asked to enter my email on the unsubscribe page. Don’t try to make this difficult as a tricky attempt at stopping opt-outs. Also, don’t require your customers to write a three-page essay explaining why they’re leaving in order to unsubscribe. That ensures that you will never get a win-back.

Make me laugh, and I may reconsider

Groupon used to have a genius unsubscribe page, featuring Derrick. Poor Derrick would receive abuse if you voluntarily unsubscribed. It was engaging, humorous, and pretty effective. I’d be curious to know how this did. Using humor, if it comes from an authentic place, can be a great way to get people to stop their forward momentum, pause and reconsider your business.



Get feedback, but make it simple

Again, Groupon gets a nod for this very simple way to opt out…three buttons with very clear copy  that allow you to select why you’re leaving. Fast, easy and a great source of data. Once you have the data, be sure to use it!

Crossing the opt-out line with grace

Let’s say you’re trying to strengthen the communications that come after the opt-out. There’s a fine line here, because ignoring someone’s opt-out request can mean trouble; both legally speaking and from a customer satisfaction standpoint. So how do you attempt to cross that line without creating offense?

I recently received an email from a site called Bentlily.com. I had opted out because as lovely as the emails were (a daily poem), it got to be too much for me to read, and I wasn’t getting what I really wanted and had initially signed up for (writing prompts).


Not only does she use a lot of smart tactics; she also got me to re-subscribe. Here are the highlights and takeaways.

Be open, authentic and brief

Samantha wrote this email with an on-brand voice, using clear and honest language, a transparent agenda and a reasonable amount of copy. Above all else, avoid coming across like a sleazy salesman. You want to draw them in with your authentic voice.

Recognize them for who they were

Something I really appreciated in this email was that I was acknowledged as a former subscriber who had opted out. This showed me some personal communication and honesty…even a vulnerability. Contacting people who have opted out is always a risk. No one wants to feel like a number or an empty opportunity. Communicating outright that you want them back is smart. People want to be acknowledged, and being remembered feels good. Samantha only made one error: see the yellow box at the bottom of the site grab? The language doesn’t apply to me, because I’ve already opted out. This might be an oversight, but it should be fixed to avoid friction.

Offer something better, different

Samantha wasn’t just trying to get me to re-subscribe to the same old emails. She mentioned the recent recognition her site received from Oprah (street cred), the new class she was offering (fresh value prop) and, most importantly to me, the promise of writing prompts (personal interest). If you’re asking a former subscriber to come back, it’s got to be for a good reason. After all, they opted out before due to lack of interest in what they were getting. Unless you improve things, in a whole-hearted way, you’re not likely to snag their interest again.

Give them some control

Another tactic used was allowing me to choose the frequency of my emails. Not only did Samantha offer three options, she also clearly explained what each one included. I was able to self-select what worked best for me. One of the biggest mistakes you can make with an email list is to oversaturate your audience. Not only does it dilute the value of your brand, it makes it easier to delete, knowing that another one is coming soon. Be strategic with your frequency, and give your customers the power to decide what they want. If you find that 90% of your list is requesting once-a-week emails, then you can make some valuable assumptions. Not only can you scale back your blasts, you can start optimizing your content. Better content, less emails, happier customers.

Consider a welcome back gift

Samantha is smart. On the page where I went to confirm my subscription, I was offered a free PDF download. It was material that interested me and gave me even more incentive to re-subscribe. Do you have a premium you could offer, like a discount coupon or an engaging download that is tied to a re-subscribe? Often, that extra offering will seal the deal.

Don’t wait forever to reach out

I unsubscribed from Bentlily about a month or so ago. It was still fresh enough in my mind that I didn’t need to struggle to recognize who was communicating with me. Had she waited a year, I might have just instantly deleted it, or worse, put it in the spam folder. The lesson? Don’t crowd your opt-outs with a win-back attempt a week after they leave. Give it some time, but not so much that you are no longer in their memory bank. Experiment with timing; test a few different options and see if one outperforms the others.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to win-backs: it’s not them, it’s you. Your customer left because they weren’t getting what they wanted, or too much of it, or whatever other reason. If you were adequately engaging them, they wouldn’t have left.

Sure, there are exceptions. Those exceptions aren’t your demographic, though. You don’t want to re-engage people who don’t offer the promise of future engagement (i.e., conversion). Take a look at feedback, data and what you’re offering, and be willing to revamp your entire approach to win-backs.