How to Change Unsubscribe Rates Through Generosity

What makes you stay on an email subscription list?

I posed this question to a few of our own subscribers and the answers were both surprising and expected.

The reasons they stay on had little to do with the subject line or the time of day we send our newsletters — we know these have more to do with the open rate. What keeps people subscribed boils down to one thing: The expectation of something valuable in the email.

In my email marketing course, I teach that there is a direct and inverse relation between the urge to unsubscribe and the expectation that staying on will yield something useful.

Perception of Value Vs. Likelihood of Unsubscribe

But having great people on your list, and gaining their confidence that your emails will deliver value, is only step one. It’s more important to deliver on that expectation. Not just some of the time, not just most of the time.

A more interesting question to ask your recipients is, “How many of my emails will you delete before you decide to unsubscribe?”

1, 2, 3, Unsubscribe!

My own rule? After deleting three mass emails in a row, I decide that future emails will only distract or clog my inbox. I unsubscribe. Others seem to be more forgiving, and will wait for a fourth email.


Every email blast is an invitation for your subscribers to click that unsubscribe button. And every email blast is a chance to reinforce the perception that future messages will contain something of value.


In the context of an email, “value” can be:

  1. A pointer to news or relevant and useful information
  2. An authoritative how-to article
  3. Discounts or coupons
  4. Free access
  5. Free samples
  6. … many many more

What’s Your Gift?


A simple sign is tacked to the wall in one of the Market Motive conference rooms. It reads, “What is Today’s Free Gift?”


The sign is a reminder that outbound messaging should not be self serving. It must give. It must be generous while we attempt to persuade our audience to act. And it must do this out of the gate, and consistently throughout your campaigns.

A Practical ExampleImage

LinkedIn is a great way to stay in touch with prospects and customers. Sending an email message to your LinkedIn connections is an appropriate way to engage your prospects and customers. Send something of value and you’ll enhance your connection. Send an unvarnished pitch or impersonal note, and you’ll find your messages aren’t welcome.

My own LinkedIn connections tend to be managers or directors of marketing groups. I decided to send a small ‘gift’ to help these managers ‘gift’ someone on their own team.

My first message to my LinkedIn connections contained an offer for a free month of access to a Market Motive course for an employee. No catch. No pitch. The first test went to just under 1000 managers and directors.

So far (four business days after sending) the response has been overwhelming. More than 10% have gifted an employee or colleague with a free month of access to a Market Motive course.

The qualitative response has been great as well. Nearly everyone is genuinely excited and grateful for the access. I’m getting a lot of thoughtful responses and ‘thank you’ notes. One recipient, Bill Ross, who is building a managed online marketing service, blogged about his experience:

“Leave it to experts in internet marketing to practice what they preach….I’m connected on LinkedIn to Michael Stebbins,… Last week he offered his LinkedIn followers a free month of the service, a $299 value. I decided to take him up on the offer and am brushing up my social media marketing skills.”


Aw. Thanks Bill. He goes on to say some very nice things about what he found inside, suggests he’ll be looking to hire Market Motive graduates, and then spreads the word about US Government financial assistance for Market Motive courses.


That’s 100 managers who now expect value from the next message from Market Motive. 100 and more marketing managers are very likely to fall in love with what we do for their employees. And even more may continue with paid training through our courses.

I can’t wait to send my next message :)

Your TurnImage

Your take-away: To build the expectation of value, each message must be generous while still persuading your audience to act. Do this early and consistently throughout your campaigns and your subscribers will look forward to your future messages.

Struggling to decide what “gift” to send in your next message? Have a good idea? Comment here and we’ll help each other plan.

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