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Dela Quist looks at why 40% of subscribers to an email database may not open a single message they are sent for six months or more.

He says this is not necessarily a bad thing as they are ‘unemotionally subscribed’ – they still want to receive messages from you but are not in a position to take up your offer today.

In my last post I talked about how we should send timely emails, based on the buying patterns of our email customers.

However, what do you do if almost half your subscribers don’t open a single message sent to them in a whole year?

If this is your experience, you’re not alone. On average, we’ve found that 40% of the subscribers on a wide variety of lists do not open a single message sent to them for well over six months.

Some commentators have said that this length of time means subscribers have ‘emotionally unsubscribed’ - but simply haven’t got round to hitting the unsubscribe button yet.

So should you stop mailing them?

Well, I was talking to a publisher recently who sends out 60,000 emails a month just to let customers know the latest magazine is in the shops .

A very low percentage of these emails are ever actually opened, but here’s the kicker - sales go up every time he sends it.

So even if subscribers are not engaging with offers and letters you send them, this doesn’t mean they don’t want to receive them.

They may still want to receive messages from you but are not in a position to take up the offer today.

At Podcast Pittsburgh 2 this August, a group of delegates coined a phrase for this type of email. They call it Bacn – defined as ‘Email you want – but not right now’.

These guys were trying to put a handle on the ’twitter’ (another US originating word) of emails you get from news alerts, friends and social networking sites and it appears to have stuck.

I don’t believe there are many people out there who stay subscribed to your messages just because they can’t be bothered to unsubscribe.

A better description would be that they are ‘unemotionally subscribed’ – until that is they are ready to buy.

Put another way, the 40% not responding are not necessarily ‘emotionally unsubscribed’ individuals, they may just want to monitor the Bacn coming their way.

They may not respond for months, but when they do, it will be when they’re at the point in their buying cycle where they’re likely to make a purchase.

For a supermarket this could be a couple of times a month, for a book shop two or three times a year, for insurance, once a year.

The important thing is to stay in touch – it will eventually bring in the bacon (sorry).

Dela Quist is the CEO of email marketing agency Alchemy Worx Ltd .

Dela Quist

Published 4 December, 2007 by Dela Quist

Dela Quist is Email Marketing Evangelist & CEO at Alchemy Worx Ltd and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

4 more posts from this author

Comments (3)


Jim Kinkade, Arial Software

Good article. I like the term "emotionally unsubscribed." I know just how those customers feel looking at my own inbox. And just to confirm, I might not look at all of the so called "bacn" but I will definitely return to those emails when I do need them.

almost 9 years ago

Dela Quist

Dela Quist, Email Marketing Evangelist & CEO at Alchemy Worx Ltd - 100% Email Marketing

Hi Jim

Thanks for the comment, however I prefer the more positive term "Unemotionally Subscribed" to describe the phenomenon, as it acknowledges that the customer or consumer still wants to continue to receive email communications from your company even though they may not need the offer or content at that time.

The phenomenon has been previously been described negatively by others as a customer or consumer being "emotionally unsubscribed" which implies that the person does NOT wish to receive your communications, but can't be bothered to ask to be removed from the list.

almost 9 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Hi Dela

Interesting viewpoint as ever. I think you are right. It certainly corresponds with my own experience and, though I haven't checked for sure, most likely our own e-mail stats will show a similar story.

I guess it depends on the sector you're in, and the product / service, but in the B2B world, or in a specialist interest area, then if you really did sign up in the first place then there is a good chance that what you are subsequently e-mailed is likely to be relevant even if not exactly relevant *at that time*.

Also, I find I stay on lists partly out of a sort of fear or concern that I might 'miss something'. So though I only cursorily pay attention to the e-mails I know that there might occasionally be a gem in there, so I can't unsubscribe. But when I do respond / click then it is highly likely that I will 'convert' - so I may look very inactive and dormant but every now and again I will respond in a way that delivers real value.

Finally, as per your magazine publisher, I am convinced there is a 'front of mind' value that regular e-mail contact provides even if the e-mails themselves don't appear to be getting a response. The point at which value is usually crystalised is when I decide to act and, following the 'Don't make me think' principle, then I am likely to go first to those brands which I know about. And often those will be companies who I've been getting e-mails from.

I can think of a number of such examples in my own case e.g. as we've been looking for e-learning specialist providers I have definitely been influenced by newsletters I've been getting from them, but their e-mail analytics would have painted a different story. To some degree even *having* a regular e-mail at all makes me think of them as somehow more credible.


Ashley Friedlein

almost 9 years ago

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