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Will Unroll.Me Roll Over Email Marketers?

To say that today’s consumers are inundated with email would be a true understatement. *A full 74.5 billion consumer emails are expected to be sent and received worldwide every day by the end of 2017, according to The Radicati Group, and that will be a decrease from the 82.6 billion that’s expected to be exchanged this year.

Unroll.Me is one company that seeks to lighten consumers’ load. For those unfamiliar with the service, Unroll.Me is a free email management tool that allows people to “mass unsubscribe” from email subscriptions they no longer wish to receive, explains Jojo Hedaya, cofounder and chief operating officer of Unroll.Me. Hedaya founded Unroll.Me in late 2011 with Josh Rosenwald, Unroll.Me’s CEO, after the duo struggled to find each other’s emails among all of their inbox clutter.

“Inbox overload is a global problem,” Hedaya says. “From a marketer’s perspective, I’d be concerned that, with all of this overload, customers aren’t seeing my content and aren’t getting what they should out of my email marketing plan.”

But could cleaning up the inbox bleach out all of email marketers’ hard work? Direct Marketing News broke down Unroll.Me and how it affects email marketers today.

What is Unroll.Me?

Here’s how Unroll.Me works: Users enter their email addresses and accept Unroll.Me’s privacy policy. *Unroll.Me also asks for users’ login passwords when it can’t access inboxes via authentication services, such as OAuth. Hence, AOL, iCloud, and Yahoo users must provide this information while Gmail and Outlook users do not. The service then scans users’ inboxes and identifies their total number of subscriptions. The email management service then presents them with a complete list of their email subscriptions, which they can then triage. Users can unsubscribe from subscriptions with a single click or opt to keep their favorite senders in their inboxes. Additionally, users who want to receive certain subscriptions but avoid inbox overload can add messages to The Rollup: a daily digest that condenses selected subscriptions into one succinct email. Because Unroll.Me displays these rolled up messages via a screen shot, subscribers can gauge whether they actually want to click-through to a specific email. Users can also select the time of day they’d like to receive their Rollup and whether they’d like it presented in grid or list form.

“Unroll.Me’s goal is to change the way people interact with email by giving users the ability to regain control over what comes into their inbox,” Hedaya says.

Does it help or hurt email marketers?

So, is Unroll.Me a death sentence for marketing emails? As long as marketers produce strong email content, they’ll hit the inbox, Hedaya says. But being moved to the Rollup isn’t exactly a nail in the coffin. Chad White, lead research analyst for Salesforce’s digital marketing software provider ExactTarget, likens Unroll.Me to Gmail’s “Promotions” tab in that it provides a separate place for promotional and business-type emails. “It’s essentially rolling a tab into an email,” he says.

Distinguishing promotional emails from personal messages is a benefit for both marketers and consumers. As with Gmail’s Promotions tab, consumers often look at the Rollup when they’re in a buying mood, White explains. The Rollup also drives efficiency for subscribers and marketers: The faster marketers get consumers out of the inbox, the faster they can drive them to their sites and channels, he says. Furthermore, this separation decreases the “annoyance factor” often associated with marketing emails, White says, and gives consumers a greater sense of control. However, he suspects that those with Gmail accounts will be less likely to use Unroll.Me’s service due to the Promotions tab.

“Any time we see investments and improvements in making the inbox a place where subscribers have more control, that’s a net positive for the industry,” he says. “The better that consumers feel about their inbox experience, the better off marketers are. When consumers dread going to their inbox, they don’t feel like they’re in control of it, and it becomes a place of negativity, that’s bad for marketers.”

In addition, the Rollup can help marketers reach passive users, Hedaya says, such as those who like a product, service or company, but don’t actively engage. For example, Hedaya receives several emails from clothing retailers that he never opens; yet he refrains from unsubscribing to get coupons and sales announcements. Moving these emails to Rollup allows Hedaya to see when there’s a sale more clearly. Furthermore, screen shots of the emails lure him into clicking on the content, he says, even if it doesn’t contain coupons or sale announcements. In fact, Unroll.Me’s Rollup has an approximate 50% open rate.

“This [figure] means a passive consumer that would’ve left the email in their inbox unopened is more likely to see the marketer’s content and therefore more likely to click through.”

Hulu is one of the brands most often included in subscribers’ Rollups. In fact, when analyzing the 300 million emails Unroll.Me rolled up in 2013, the company found that the streaming service had a 61.6% Rollup rate. Amazon Local and Go Daddy also had high Rollup rates at 46% and 44.4%, respectively.

Yet, not all companies share these brands’ fates. According to Unroll.Me, people unsubscribed from more than 2.47 million subscriptions in 2013. 1-800-Flowers had one of the highest unsubscribe rates at 52.5%, followed by Ticketweb (47.50%), Pro Flowers (45.10%), and Expedia (45%). However, Unroll.Me’s unsubscribe capabilities might not be to blame.

“We believe that unsubscribing means that marketers should take a look at both their content and email frequency,” Hedaya says. “Consumers don’t like to be bombarded with multiple emails from the same marketer multiple times a day. You have to hit a good stride between content and frequency.”

But unsubscribes shouldn’t always be perceived as a negative. ExactTarget’s White notes that unsubscribes can help marketers devote more attention to their “super fans” and to turning moderate fans into super fans. So, in a way, Unroll.Me helps marketers do the very thing they often struggle with, White notes: letting subscribers go.

“If they don’t want to be on the list we kind of don’t want them,” White says.

What about those ads?

Similarly to how Gmail includes ads in its Promotions tab, Unroll.Me displays ads in its Rollup emails. Cofounder Rosenwald says that these ads are targeted based on subscribers’ engagement, such as when and how people open promotional emails, how long they spend with them, and whether they click through.

“We’re learning what interests users and what they want more of and less of,” he says.

The company first started testing ads in fall 2013 as a way to help keep its service free. However, White doesn’t think that these ads should come as a surprise. 

“Unroll.Me and the Promotions tabs are venues where people go to shop. Of course, those providers are also going to run ads there. Why wouldn’t you?” he asks. “That’s like saying that there shouldn’t be any advertising in malls or there shouldn’t be any billboards around shopping centers.”

If Unroll.Me continues to pick up steam, White suspects that ISPs like AOL and Yahoo will feel pressured to adopt tabbed interfaces and monetize through advertising, similarly to Gmail. And with more than 720,000 users, that prediction might not be so far fetched.

*UPDATE: Added information about log-in requests on May 8, 2014 at 5:15 pm. Added the word “consumer” in front of “email” in second sentence on May 9 at 11:50 am.

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