Opt-Out: Digital Marketing’s punch in the stomach

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Doug Kessler

08. 12. 2008 | 2 min read

Opt-Out: Digital Marketing’s punch in the stomach

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Marketing used to be all about the upside.  You fired off a message; some people responded; others didn’t.   Net gain.

In the digital world, there’s a downside that’s as painful as any upside: the dreaded Opt-Out.

The Opt-Out is a body blow to the digital marketer.  It takes the prospect outside the Realm of the Reachable.  And it does so forever – or until they opt in at some point in the future (a possibility made dramatically less likely by the act of opting out.)

So today, every marketing action risks an opposite (though presumably not equal) reaction.  A true and fair accounting of any marketing campaign should factor in the Opt-Outs.

Of course, even before digital marketing, any campaign could trigger a negative reaction (“Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to cancel that subscription.”).  But in meatspace, the opt out was usually invisible. Today, it’s instant and quantifiable.

So what can we do about it?  A few thoughts:

  • Be relevant – That’s always been a good idea; now it’s imperative. An ill-targeted email will trigger many more Opt-Outs than a relevant one.
  • Be compelling – Make people want to receive your next communication. Make them want to open the next email.  This is a much higher bar than simply delivering a message effectively.
  • Consider doing less – The more you send people, the more it starts to feel like spam. Be selective.  Don’t send everything to every prospect.
  • Offer granular Opt-Outs – People may not want to opt out of everything, just certain types of communication. Make it easy to selectively opt out or you encourage global Opt-Out.
  • On exit, ask to maintain a connection – When you accept the Opt-Out (as all responsible marketers must), ask if it’s okay to contact them again in 6 months to see if they’d like to opt back in.  You never know.
  • Measure it – Opt-Outs are an important metric. Measure them and factor them into any campaign’s ROI report.
  • Use some automation – We’re working with a lead nurturing and scoring system that makes it a lot easier to segment (by demographics and behaviour); to automate campaigns; and to track responses and Opt-Outs. Talk to us about it.
  • Keep filling the top of the funnel – Compensate for the Opt-Out factor by getting more people to opt in!

Bottom line: Opt-Out is a fact of life for the digital marketer. And it hurts. You can pretend it’s not a factor or you can meet the challenge head-on.

Published in:

  • b2b-marketing

  • branding

  • content

  • copywriting

  • digital-marketing

  • mobile-marketing

  • Thought Leadership

  • web-marketing

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  1. Doug Kessler

    December 8th, 2008

    For anyone out there who uses a lot of analytics, one of our clients, Portrait Software, has a tool that takes these negative effects into account.

    It’s called Uplift Optimizer:


    Bottom line: much more accurate metrics that don’t ignore the downside.

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