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Your guide to an effective email recapture program

Stephen Webster
Your guide to an effective email recapture program Stephen Webster

One of the most cost-effective email marketing programs is outreach targeted to recapture the interest of disengaged subscribers. These are customers who subscribed to your email list but lost interest, and stopped opening or clicking your emails. They're still on your list and receive email, but they're no longer purchasing from you.

It's not uncommon for 40 percent or more of a brand's list to be inactive. Your goal in a recapture program is to identify inactive customers and work to get them interested again in your brand.

Recapture program recipe
Recapture programs have the best return when they're made a permanent part of your email marketing mix. A persistent, ongoing recapture program has these ingredients:

  1. Define "inactive subscribers"

  2. Establish baseline statistics of their email (email service provider) and site (web analytics) behavior

    1. Click and open rates

    2. Conversion rate

    3. Revenue per mailing

  3. Generate an email list of inactive customers

  4. Send recapture offer email

  5. Measure response

  6. Feed results back, repeat

What not to do
Don't react to inactive subscribers by cutting them out of the email list. Email is so inexpensive compared to lifetime customer value that even a tiny recapture rate will more than pay for your recapture program. Typically, converting just one inactive in a thousand per mailing (0.1 percent) brings in an immediate net positive ROI, which only improves over the lifetime of the recaptured customer.

Instead, reduce the frequency of email sent to inactive customers to avoid spam complaints that damage your email reputation. A good rate for most brands is to send a recapture mailing monthly.

1. Define "inactive subscribers"
Your inactive subscribers are customers who aren't opening or clicking your email. For most brands, a good definition to start with is:

Inactive subscribers are email list subscribers who haven't opened a mail in one month or clicked on a mail in two months.

2. Establish baseline statistics
Establishing a baseline is important so you can tell after beginning your recapture program how effective it is compared to your normal program. The metrics you'll need before starting your program (and after each recapture mailing) are:

3. Generate the email list of inactive subscribers
Since the definition of "inactive subscriber" above is based solely on email behavior, your email service provider should be able to provide a mechanism that automatically generates your list of inactive subscribers on demand.

You should generate a list of these subscribers immediately before sending a recapture email, so the list is as up-to-date as possible.

Do not send inactive customers your normal email marketing that's targeted to engaged subscribers. You run the risk of sending them too much email and getting a click on "report spam" instead of a happily recaptured customer.

4. Send recapture offer email
There are two considerations for the recapture offer email itself: what to send and when to send it.

What to send in recapture email:
The from line of the recapture email should be your brand's name, as usual. While an unusual from line may stand out and get the attention of an inactive subscriber, it will be much more likely to generate a negative response (spam complaint) than a positive one.

The subject line is crucial, because it's your best chance to pull in the attention of inactive subscribers who are used to ignoring email from you. Additionally, it should reflect the offer in the body of the email in a punchy, attention-grabbing way and lead with the first name of the subscriber.

You know you have the right offer in the body when it's so compelling that you'd fear sending it to your engaged subscribers because it'd kill your gross margin. In other words, make it really good: a single time at a blowout discount, a free sample, or a massive invoice discount. The goal in this email isn't to generate a lot of revenue right away -- it's to recapture interest and reestablish lifetime value. The revenue comes later.

When to send recapture email:
Sending recapture emails monthly is a good rate to start. Test higher mailing frequencies by sending more often to a subset of your inactive subscribers and measure the positive and negative responses. If spam complaints exceed 0.35 percent, you're probably sending too frequently.

5. Measure response
As mentioned, inactive subscribers are in the habit of ignoring email from you, so your recapture campaigns' open and click rates will never attain the level of your engaged mailings. With that said, your conversion rate should be very strong:

You'll see that jump in conversion rate because of the great recapture offer: Only a few of your inactive subscribers will click through, but when they do, they really want to convert. It's not uncommon to see recapture conversion rates three times higher than for engaged subscribers.

6. Feed results back, repeat
Your recapture program metrics tell you what to adjust for the next iteration:

Stephen Webster is chief strategy officer at iPost.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Kip Edwardson

2010, February 12

Stephen, we did the same thing with our list last year. It worked out well and I would encourage anyone doing it to ask a few questions about why the suscriber isn't opening/clicking etc. and provide an incentive to take the survey. We were suprised by some of the responses and it has actually resulted in us viewing the list size differently. Also, people are generally "lazy" and will just delete your email over and over instead of taking a few seconds to unsubscribe.

Commenter: Bill Baird

2010, February 11

Thanks for an exceptional piece. Insightful, action-oriented and with a foundation in analytics. Great stuff.

Bill Baird