Turning a Negative into a Positive

Inplace #2

A lot of successful marketers are optimistic by nature, focusing on the positive.  This positivity shows up in marketing performance analysis and optimization as well.  By the nature of the word ‘optimize’ there is a tendency to think about metrics that we want to increase, enhance, boost, lift, and otherwise raise the level of performance.  We want to focus on ways to increase our click rates, open rates, conversions, and of course return-on-investment.  While this positive mindset is generally very effective in marketing (and life), it can lead to turning a blind eye toward what marketers consider to be negative outcomes from their campaigns. In the email arena, this means metrics like opt-outs, bounces, complaints and spam reports, etc.

Many email marketers do look at these metrics, but often just with the hope that they aren’t increasing.  However, this represents a missed opportunity to use the data provided in these negative marketing signals to optimize future campaigns.

Here are three commonly available negative marketing signals that be turned into positives, with a little creative thinking.

1. Bounce Rate

Most email marketers look at open rates for all their campaigns.  The idea being, you can’t become a conversion if you don’t even open the email.  But, if an email doesn’t even make it to the inbox, it can’t even be opened, let alone lead to a conversion.  If you are actually trying to increase your open rates, then reducing your bounce rates is a great way to start.  One step is to ensure you’re cleansing your email lists regularly to remove invalid or unverified addresses.  Following that, you may want to start tracking valid emails that bounce more than once.  Removing email addresses that bounce multiple times, will help keep your list clean and generally have higher deliverability.  Having a clean list can also help your sender reputation, which can lead to better inbox placement in the future.

2. Unsubscribes

Every email recipient that opts-out of future mailings is sending you their negative feedback and you actually learn quite a bit from it, if you do more than simply remove their address from your future mailing lists (which you absolutely need to do).  Look at your opt-outs from each campaign at the macro and micro level.  Certainly, you can use an elevated opt-out rate from one email campaign as a signal that the messaging did not resonate with the audience as well as you had hoped.  But, if you look deeper, you might find other trends in your opt-out records.  Is a particularly higher number of the opt-outs coming from a particular list or audience segment?  This might indicate the need to segment out an audience group for different and more engaging messaging.

3. Spam Reports

Much like an opt-out, a spam complaint is providing you with direct feedback from the recipients who flagged your email as spam.  Do you get more spam complaints when using a particular subject line or include certain types of content? Is there any trend in the list segments that spam reporters belong to?  Use this information to make adjustments or test variations in future campaigns.  Spam reports can have a negative impact on a mailer’s reputation with the recipient’s email provider and ISP.  Build up enough complaints and it can lead to having future messages flagged as spam for all recipients on that email platform.


One of the best characteristics of an optimist is turning a negative into a positive. Bring that approach to your negative marketing signals and you may just find those lemons turn into great lemonade.