Turning a Negative into a Positive


As email marketers, most of us are focused on how our campaigns perform. Even if our emails aren’t specifically designed to drive leads, sales, or other recipient actions, we still monitor key metrics like Open Rate to at least determine if recipients are looking at the message.  For those email marketers who are more performance-driven, email is an ideal channel when it comes to measuring performance across a wide variety of campaign metrics.

Every email campaign provides a wealth of data that marketers can use to optimize future mailings. Data that can be evaluated at simply the campaign level or used for advanced analysis across audience segments, test groups, individual CTA’s or virtually any other element of the email creative or structure.

With all these campaign metrics to choose from, marketers will often focus on just a few key KPI’s when it comes to evaluating performance and optimizing future campaigns. While these may vary, they are typically related to the positive outcomes that marketers are trying to generate: Email Opens, Clicks, and Conversions, etc. It is obviously important to carefully measure and analyze KPIs and campaign goals, but there are a number of other metrics that can be extremely useful in campaign optimization initiatives.

Among these additional metrics, and some of the least often analyzed, are the negative metrics that are created by every campaign. We call these Negative Marketing Signals because they represent signals that your recipients are sending you about what they don’t like about your email strategy and messaging. It’s human nature to focus on positive outcomes. Having a goal-oriented, eyes on the prize, and a typically optimistic mindset is fairly common for marketers. So, it may seem entirely natural for marketers to spend the majority of their time looking at positive KPIs and working toward optimizing them in each subsequent campaign. However, looking at the negative signals that recipients are giving you about how your messaging is not engaging with them can be extremely valuable when dialing in your email performance over time.

Think back to your own experiences in school or in your career. When you received negative feedback on a project or even had a less than positive experience in some past role, do you simply ignore that information and move on or do you take that constructive criticism or learning about yourself and use it to grow and improve? You may realize that some of the most valuable lessons you ever learned came when things didn’t necessarily turn out the way you wanted. The same can be said about email campaigns.

Here are two key Negative Marketing Signals and how they can inform your optimization strategies.

Opt-Out Requests

For most email marketers, this is about the most negative response you can receive to an email campaign. The recipient is telling you they are so disinterested in your email content that they don’t want to receive any additional emails from you in the future. Since you are running a compliant email program, you are going to honor that request and remove them from your email list going forward. They are making their desire not to hear from you anymore very clear, so it’s logical to simply make sure you process their request and they are added to your suppression file. But, if you simply stop there, you are missing out on the opportunity to learn from what they are telling you.

Look for trends in your opt-outs, just as you would in more positive metrics. Is your opt-out rate higher in certain audience segments? Does it vary based on the day, or time of day, you send your campaigns? Do certain subject lines or types of content lead to higher opt-out rates? Look at each of these data points and look for ways to reduce your opt-out rate in much the same way you work toward increasing CTR and conversion rates.


Chances are the single biggest audience segment in your email campaign falls into one broad category - Non-Responders. You can define non-responders in various ways.  Recipients who never even open your email, those who open but don’t engage, or even those who engage, but don’t convert. You may also consider frequency in your non-responder metrics. There may be a big difference between a recipient who fails to respond to a single email vs. someone who hasn’t responded in 6 months.

Much like Opt-Outs, non-responders are letting you know that your email didn’t catch their interest enough to take the action you want them to complete. You may want to compare your non-responder data across the same audience segments and other data points where you focus on positive response metrics. Remember, that even if you received a 20% CTR on a campaign, that means that 80% of recipients didn’t click. What commonalities can you find in those non-responders to help optimize your messaging or other campaign elements going forward?

This isn’t an exhaustive list of Negative Marketing Signals but should provide ideas for some additional ways you can measure and evaluate your campaign data to develop the most effective optimization program possible.