The Re-Engagement Email: How to Handle Inactive Subscribers

Re-engaging inactive subscribers

To segue from our series on deliverabilty into our new series on re-engaging B2C customers through email, we asked for WhatCounts alum DJ Waldow to contribute to today’s blog. An accomplished email marketer himself, DJ discusses tactics he has used in the past, as well as specific examples from a current WhatCounts client, True Citrus:

There has been a debate in the email marketing industry for years now about how to handle inactive subscribers. Before we get into the specifics, let’s first define “inactive” (as it turns out, there’s even a debate about that term!).

My personal definition of an inactive email subscriber is one who has not taken some action (opened, clicked, forwarded, socially shared, converted, etc.) in a defined period of time (past X emails sent, past X days/weeks/months/years).
Email marketing advisors typically suggest one of a few strategies for dealing with these inactives (or unemotionally subscribed as Dela Quist calls them). The first step is to identify who on your list fits the criteria and build a segment of those folks. Remember, your segment is a combination of the inaction and the time period. For example, those contacts on your email list who have not opened or clicked a link on any email over the past 6 months.
Once you have your segment you have a few options:

  1. Immediately unsubscribe or delete them. I call this the “DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLECT $200” approach.
  2. Move to a new list and mail to less frequently. I call this the “I think I need to see you a bit less often” approach.
  3. Send a last ditch “We missed you” type email. If they don’t respond, then do (1). I call this the “I’m going to give you one more chance” approach.
  4. Set up a re-engagement email series. I call this the “I really don’t want to break up, but if you are not responding at all, well, it’s over” approach.

No one approach is better than the other. As we like to say, it depends on your business – time, resources, $$, and how critical email marketing is to your overall marketing/sales bottom line.

Why Bother?

Before we continue, it’s important to explore why this all matters. Why bother removing inactives from your email list? What’s the harm in keeping them there?
First, sending to people who are not taking any action on your emails is costing you money – money that is not getting any sort of return. From a business perspective, that’s not going to make too many CFOs or CMOs happy.

Second, and maybe more important, having an “engaged” list gives your email a better chance of getting delivered – so says those who decide whether or not your email gets delivered (aka, the ISPs). Which begs the question … what is engagement?

There has been some misconception about what exactly ISPs consider engagement. Is it opens? Clicks? Conversions? Social sharing? To clarify, Tom told me that “ISPs aren’t looking at clicks, even though that is mentioned in nearly every email engagement filtering article. Clicks can be used as a signal of higher engagement, but it’s not part of the ISPs’ formulas.” My guess is that conversions and social sharing do not factor in too the “ISP engagement” forumla either as both require click data, something they don’t count.

Since those two blog posts were written, even more ISPs (most recently Yahoo!) have announced that “engagement” will impact deliverability. Bottom line is this: When it comes to email marketing, engagement matters.


The True Citrus Re-Engagement Email Campaign (teaser)

So who is actually running these “re-engagement series” – the one I defined in #4 above? WhatCounts client, True Citrus, that’s who.

The idea for setting up an automated re-engagement series actually came from True Citrus’s Account Manager, Sean McGarry.

As McGarry shared with me,

The idea of a multi piece series was attractive to me when compared to a one-shot hit or miss re-engagement email. I never really liked those pending confirmation campaigns. The metrics are always terrible. They are a lot of work to execute. And it sort of seems like a recurring chore. So I had been on the lookout for another way to advise clients on re-engagement.

True Citrus was a great fit for the execution.

They recently repositioned some of their campaigns and added a new inspirational series. Their Master Database contained a very large number of opted in subscribers who were not properly segmented into these new communication channels and an even larger number who were identified as inactive.

So with the help of McGarry, True Citrus’s Marketing Associate, Lindsey Paolucci, built out a 3-part re-engagement series.

Stay tuned next week as we reveal the three subject lines and emails that make up this campaign. We’ll also share some early results with you.

You didn’t think we’d give it all away in this one blog post did you?

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