Opt Out: 4 Tips to Decrease Email Unsubscribe Rates in the Attention Economy

Find out how to engage prospects and decrease unsubscribe rates in the attention economy...

31 Jan 2019 3487 Views

Written by Lauren Mocol

Unsubscribe rates are increasing

Figure 1: Computer tracking and monitoring unsubscribe rates

As attention spans shrink and the saturation of content grows, marketers search for ways to reduce unsubscribe rates and engage the modern day prospect in the attention economy.

Marketing in an Attention Economy

Let’s face it, as Marketing professionals, we are sick of opening our inboxes and seeing the dreaded reply: “Please unsubscribe me from your mailing list.” It’s become so commonplace we hardly give it a thought anymore. To make things worse, there has been a lack of disruptive innovation in email marketing in the last 5-10 years, and all the while, prospects have smaller attention spans than ever (Leinbach-Reyhle, 2016).

So, what is the attention economy and why is it plaguing marketers now more than ever?

Herbert A. Simon (1969) first coined the phrase attention economy after articulating that a wealth of information results in a decrease inattention. Simply put, attention is now a resource. As marketers, we are constantly grasping for a piece of the proverbial pie, as we want our content to be seen, interacted with, and let’s be honest—converted.

Meanwhile, due to this oversaturation of information, prospects are categorizing content to reduce information overload by unsubscribing, a marketer’s worst nightmare (Micheaux, 2011). You can say goodbye to future touchpoints and retargeting. However, let’s not drop email marketing from our workflows just yet, because according to Campaign Monitor (2018), email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. So what can we do to draw more attention while reducing unsubscribe rates?

Here are 4 simple strategies to decrease email unsubscribe rates and engage modern prospects in the attention economy:

Inboxes are bursting in the attention economy

Figure 2: Email inboxes are bursting in the attention economy

1. Hyper Personalization

Hyper Personalization refers to the capability of producing relevant content for the prospect or consumer (Montgomery and Smith, 2009). Today, with access to mass amounts of data, marketers are able to generate content that resonates directly with a prospect’s interests, at the most opportune time, via the most relevant channel. This reduces their likelihood of unsubscribing (Montgomery and Smith, 2009).

A highly successful hyper personalized campaign should include the following elements:

Email Automation:

Have you ever wished that you could remove repetitive tasks from your daily activities to free up time for other tasks? Well, with machine learning and email automation, we can now easily stay connected to our audience (and get connected to others just like them) with minimal effort. Track and target prospects and customers based on past purchases, behaviors, and preferences. Set up triggers based on specific actions, and let the system do the rest.


According to The Direct Marketing Association, marketers have found a 760% increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns (Digital Marketing Association, 2015). Segmenting allows us to cluster our audience based on criteria like location, demographic, purchase history, interests, and much more. This then allows us to send our audience relevant content based upon their unique segments.

Dynamic Content:

Besides automation and segmentation, let’s not forget the actual content. 74% of prospects get frustrated with websites when content (e.g. ads, promotions, and offers) are not relevant to their interests (Janrain, 2018). To decrease unsubscribe rates, marketers must be presenting dynamic content. But what actually makes content dynamic? Industry related terminology, design, writing style, and techniques must be included to entice a prospect. After all, you want to add value and while having the prospect feel like you’re speaking directly to them.

CTA’s can draw attention

Figure 3: Call to action stating “The Clock is Ticking”

2. CTA’s that Intrigue and evoke urgency

Calls to action (CTA’s), are the pathway to get your prospect or customer to take an indicated action. After all, emails should redirect prospects to your online or physical store. However, if your CTA is formatted incorrectly, it may actually be leading to more email unsubscribes. Every email sent should include a highly visible, easy-to-click button or link that directs customers to your online store or another landing page on your website. The difficulty here is that we need to nudge prospects without sounding too pushy or desperate.

Lucky for us, cognitive psychologists have discovered that humans rationalize decision-making by avoiding losses at all costs, a theory known as loss aversion (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979). Therefore, framing our offers in a way that induces urgency and the potential for loss can incentivize prospects rather than deter them.  That is why, as marketers, it is more effective to position our offer as “Save $5” rather than “Gain $5”—the audience is more motivated by a potential loss than a potential gain.

Other common CTA button mistakes

  • Your CTA button is too small to be noticed
  • Your CTA button doesn’t stand out
  • Having multiple CTA’s distracts potential leads from conversion
Unsubscribe rate

Figure 4: Emails are becoming more interactive with clickable and slidable icons

3. Interactivity

Interactivity, at its core, is a process of action and reaction, and it enables two-sided communication (Van Dijk, 2012). In the face of email marketing and the attention economy, interactivity can be an element in drawing prospects in and minimizing unsubscribe rates. Not only can interactive content lead to more conversion but it can also help us gather more information on our prospects, and as noted before, larger sets of data mean a greater chance at hyper-personalized content.

Interactive elements to implement in your email campaigns  

  • GIF’s
  • Swipeable/clickable items
  • Videos
Frequency is key to reduce unsubscribe rates

Figure 5: Attention is limited so prospects are unsubscribing to reduce information overload

4. Adjust Frequency

One of the most common reasons marketers get high email unsubscribe rates is the frequency they are contacting prospects. We want to ensure that prospects receive relevant updates and offers that add value. So, how do we find the sweet spot of emailing enough to not be forgotten but also not too much as to be annoying?

Frequency Testing

Basing frequency strategy solely on averages from other companies and brands is not best practice and certainly won’t yield the best possible results. The best way to achieve optimal frequency is by testing and data analysis processing. One way to do this is to run a frequency split test. Split your list into two or three and send at a different frequency to each test group.

According to ZettaSphere (2015), a simple split test may look something like this if you are currently running two emails per week:

  • The control with two emails per week
  • A test group with one per week
  • A third test group with three emails per week

Then for each group track: Campaign average open and click rates, gross number of clicks, web sessions created, web conversion rate, and number of unsubscribes

So, What’s Next?

The fact of the matter is, even if we can reduce our unsubscribe rate and garner more attention, society is constantly changing, and it’s our job as marketers to be on the forefront of trends and preferences. Continue to track and alter campaigns, but don’t lose focus on the ultimate goal of adding continued value to prospects and customers.

Read also about challenges of international marketing. More details on our blog!


Campaignmonitor.com. (2018). The New Rules of Email Marketing. [online] Available at: https://www.campaignmonitor.com/resources/guides/email-marketing-new-rules/ [Accessed 24  Nov. 2018].

Digital Marketing Association. (2015). National Client Email. [ebook]. Available at: https://cdn.emailmonday.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/National-client-email-2015-DMA.pdf [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].

Janrain. (2018). Online Consumers Fed Up with Irrelevant Content on Favorite Websites, According to Janrain Study. [online] Available at: https://www.janrain.com/company/newsroom/press-releases/online-consumers-fed-irrelevant-content-favorite-websites-according [Accessed 26 Nov. 2018].

Kahneman, D. and Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk. Econometrica, 47(2), p.263.

Leinbach-Reyhle, N. (2016). 8 Ways To Gain More Attention For Your Business. Available Online: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicoleleinbachreyhle/2016/03/31/ways-to-gain-more-attention-for-your-business/#4c5f9aed1280 [Accessed 22 November 2018]

Micheaux, A. (2011). Managing e-mail Advertising Frequency from the Consumer Perspective. Journal of Advertising, 40(4), pp.45-66.

Montgomery, A. and Smith, M. (2009). Prospects for Personalization on the Internet. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 23(2), pp.130-137.

Simon, H. (1969). Designing Organizations for An Information-Rich World [pdf] Available at: http://zeus.zeit.de/2007/39/simon.pdf [Accessed 25 November 2018]

Stenström, E. (2018). Improving interactivity with Javascript. [online] Friendly Bit – Web development blog. Available at: https://friendlybit.com/js/improving-interactivity-with-javascript/ [Accessed 26 Nov. 2018].

Van Dijk, J. (2012). The Network Society. 3rd ed. London: SAGE Publications Ltd, pp.9-10.ZettaSphere (2018). Email frequency – how often to send calculated. [online] ZettaSphere. Available at: https://www.zettasphere.com/email-frequency-send-sweet-spot-is-6-emails-per-week/ [Accessed 24 Nov. 2018].

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BrandBase | @BrandBa_se
Students from the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University are the contributing authors for the BrandBase blog.