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6 tips to win back inactive subscribers

6 tips to win back inactive subscribers Wendy Roth

How many email messages did you send out in your last campaign? Really? That many? Wow! Now, how many of your recipients actually opened or clicked on your email?

Yeah, that's a different story. Remember that with email, size doesn't really matter. Performance is what counts, not just for your email program and its bottom line but also for your sender reputation.

A reactivation campaign is the answer here, and it's just as important as any acquisition campaign. It will help you clean out the dead wood, re-energize your list and reclaim some of the money you spent acquiring and engaging those addresses in the first place.

Why reactivation works
Your email service provider might be thrilled that you ship out millions of messages in each campaign, but you could actually hurt yourself and your sender reputation and spend money you don't have to when you send to people who never bother to open or act on your messages.

Sure, maybe they did sign up with you once upon a time. Since then, though, they abandoned those mailboxes, and you never noticed. The ISPs are noticing, and they'll treat your email accordingly.

Many use these long-dead email addresses as spam traps to monitor your list hygiene and measure your sender reputation. The dirtier your list, the more likely they'll route your email messages to the junk folder or block you.

Just by looking at your database, you can't tell which subscribers actually abandoned their mailboxes, who deletes your messages without opening them or who still is sort of interested in you but hasn't seen any reason to open.

A reactivation campaign will identify which addresses you can safely drop from your list without killing off live ones and re-establish connections with past customers.

Think of it as going on a second honeymoon. Just like a tired marriage needs a spark to keep it going, your subscribers who take you for granted need a fresh, new reason to keep opening your messages.

You know you get the most action from your newest subscribers. Apply the tactics you use on them to rejuvenate the inactives on your list instead of spending more money to replace them.

Ready with the virtual flowers and candy?

First, identify your inactives
This takes a little database work. Create a separate mailing list, and add anyone who hasn't opened or clicked on a message in, say, six months or longer, to it. Send a message with a pleading subject line, such as "We miss you! Please come back!" Go ahead, grovel a little. Include a special offer or invitation to fill out a new profile or encourage them to unsubscribe once and for all.

Move any responding addresses back to your active list. Send the message again, this time saying you'll take them off your list if they don't respond in, say, a week. Then, scratch them from your list if they don't respond. It might kill you to do that, but a smaller, more vital list will do you more good than one where nobody's home anymore.

Next, keep everybody interested
These tactics will keep your whole list engaged and energized:

  1. Ask them what they want to get. It could be you have lots to offer, but your subscribers aren't getting what they really want. For example, if you're a book seller it may be that someone subscribed to your general list is really only interested in mysteries. Ask recipients to take control of what they want to get, and you may see renewed interest.

  2. Make them an offer they can't refuse. Discounts, new products, samples and free shipping can work wonders for retailers. B2B marketers can renew interest with a special whitepaper or discount on a conference or webinar.

  3. Incentivize! Ask users to update their profile, and give them a chance to win a big-screen TV. (iPods are, well, kind of over unless it's a really upscale one.) Be careful to keep the focus on the email, though. If the prize is too good, people will re-engage, only to click the spam button when your email actually arrives.

  4. Threaten to break up. Tell subscribers if they don't click, you're going away. It's possible that your heavily texted message is in fact being read, but you can't know it because recipients don't enable the images. It's fair to say that if recipients don't let you know somehow that they're still there, still breathing, that you'll drop them from the list.

  5. See what's on their minds. Simple surveys, sweetened with a little incentive (see No. 2), can help you find out what's going on. Maybe you're sending too often and they turn a deaf ear. Or, you're not coming around enough and they drift away.

  6. Change your format. Are you sending long, chatty emails to people who read them on their phones and don't get down to your offer? Or, do you stuff all your content into a single large image that won't show up? Offer a text format to people who read email on alternative platforms and make it short and sweet.

Trust me, the effort you spend now to wake up your list and re-engage with them will pay off in better deliverability and a higher ROI.

Wendy Roth is the strategic account manager for Lyris Technologies. .

Wendy Roth is senior manager of training services for Lyris, Inc., a pioneer in email marketing and other online marketing solutions since 1994. She works closely with marketing and advertising professionals to help them understand how Lyris'...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Wendy Roth

2008, January 04

Thanks, Matt! You're right to be concerned about the company you may be keeping with your ESP. Did they ask you probing questions about how you obtained your list? If not, chances are they didn't ask your network neighbors either. It's worth it to get a dedicated IP address if possible from your ESP so your traffic isn't confused with someone else's.

Keep in mind, however, that if there's enough questionable email coming from an ESP's network, their entire network might get blocked. If you're uncomfortable with your ESP's practices, there are many reputable ones out there who'd be happy to have your business IF you have properly built your list.

Commenter: Wendy Roth

2008, January 04

Different ISPs use different criteria to filter for spam.

Generally, the particulars of what they score and how they score are proprietary.

MSN reportedly scores by domains found in the message (not just the From: address), by the reputation of the sending IP address, and how much the actual messages resembles spam they've received in the past.

They also allegedly turn abandoned email addresses into spamtraps, and they count the number of spamtraps hit by mail coming from an IP address. So, it's really worth your while to get rid of the non-responders so you can get optimal delivery to those who really do want to receive it.

Commenter: Matt Klugman

2008, January 02

My question is somewhat similar to Ralph's question. We use a third party email vendor and am worried that they have MANY customers who are not cleaning their lists the way they should be.

Am I correct in worrying that those bad lists affect us if they are sending to the same email providers? How can you know that this is becoming a real problem and are there any steps to correct it without changing vendors?

Thanks....very helpful article!

Commenter: Ralph Demmler

2008, January 02


Would you please elaborate on your assertion..."they abandoned those mailboxes, and you never noticed. The ISPs are noticing, and they'll treat your email accordingly."

Do ISP's tag e-mails from a particular sender with a quality or reputation score?
If so, how discriminating is that scale for that score?
If so, how does the ISP identify the sender? By senders e-mail address? IP address? server?

Thanks in advance>

Ralph D.

that scale? (does it e