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5 Tips for Re-Engaging Inactive Customers

by: Amy Martin (@IBMforMarketing)
22 February 2016

We all know the challenges of obtaining new email recipients. And to complicate matters, brands often get hung up on having a big database, even if it doesn’t give them the performance they desire.

When you’re emailing recipients who aren’t engaged, your open and click-through rates (and possibly even deliverability) start to decline. And then the questions from above start – why is performance dropping? So, what do you do next?

Suggesting that your company remove recipients from a database can cause panic or concern, even if it’s for the best. Fortunately, there are alternatives to immediately dropping contacts from your list. Here are five tips for re-engaging inactive customers:

1) Review Your Data

Yes, you’re always looking at your data – but have you analyzed where drop-off seems to take place? Do you know who has stopped opening your emails?

By using scoring models you can track engagement behavior, identify active and inactive contacts, and easily query those engaged recipients for your sends. It’s likely you’ll see a change in your overall performance when you only send to people who engage with you and your brand.

What about the contacts who have become inactive? First, you’ll want to determine how far back a recipient with no recent activity should be included in your re-engagement effort. For example, if you decide the appropriate time frame is six months, include anyone with six to nine months of inactivity in your re-engagement campaign. Consider going ahead and removing anyone with 12 or more months of inactivity. They’re not engaged and you don’t need to continue sending marketing messages to them.

2) Determine What You Want to Say

Once you know who those unengaged recipients are, you need to figure out what you want to say to lure them back. Exclusive offer? Special announcement? Figure out what you can provide them so they see value in remaining in your database, and highlight this in the subject line. This is a last-ditch effort (or second-to-last-ditch, depending on your strategy) to get them to open or click on your email. Make it count.

This is also a good time to highlight your preference center and opt-out link, rather than having recipients mark your email as spam. If these links are typically placed in your email footer, consider moving them toward the top and making these calls to action more prominent.

If they no longer want to receive your emails, and they haven’t been opening them for an extended period of time, it’s time to let them go. Include messaging that lets them know if they take no action, you’ll automatically remove them from the database in a set number of days.

3) TEST!

Sure, you could jump right in and start sending this email to everyone who falls into the “unengaged” category, but you’d be better off to test before doing so.

Test subject lines. Test your email creative. Test your offer. Remember, you want to find the perfect combination to get those recipients back!

Once you’ve found the best combination for you and your brand, it’s time to move and get this program automated.

4) Put Your Plan into Action

Remove the recipients who meet your “unengaged” criteria out of your normal messaging stream. This prevents them from continuing to receive multiple emails leading up to the re-engagement email.

Create a query with the logic that defines your re-engagement criteria, set up a program within your digital marketing platform to automatically pull recipients who meet the defined criteria into the program, and hold them for a short period of time (a few days, to ensure they’re no longer receiving your other brand messaging). The program will automatically run daily, and based on recipients’ action (or inaction), you can update their profile data and act accordingly.

5) Learn to Let Go

If you were able to re-engage some recipients, that’s great! Re-introduce your brand over a short period of time, remind them of what they should expect in your emails, and then slowly bring them back into your regular communications stream, rather than sending them everything at once. If you didn’t share your preference center in your re-engagement email previously, consider having an email focused on their preferences to allow them to be in control of what they receive and how often (if available) before they are fully back into the marketing stream.

Chances are, you’ll have some recipients who didn’t take action on your email. Don’t take it personally. With the amount of emails sent every day, it’s not unusual for recipients to mentally opt out of reading everything that comes through.

Now’s the time to remove them from your database. Update their profile data and/or opt them out so you don’t continue marketing to them. With an automated program in place to help drive this effort, you won’t have to continually focus on re-engagement, since the program will only pull in and send to those people who meet your desired criteria as time passes, freeing up time for you to focus on those recipients who are engaging with your emails.

Related Resources:

1) White Paper: “Unsubscribe Best Practices: How to Decrease Churn and Strengthen Your Marketing Program

2) Blog: “Using Online Dating Strategies to Create Successful Onboarding Email Campaigns (Yes, Really!)

3) Tip Sheet: “Transactional Emails: 10 Tips for Driving Value and Engagement


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