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Silent Email Subscribers: How to Approach Them

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by: Ellen Valentine (@EllenValentine)
12 April 2016

Email Subscriber SilenceIn the classic ‘60s hit “The Sounds of Silence,” Simon and Garfunkel described darkness as an old friend that still remains in the sounds of silence. But as digital marketers, silence is more like a plague infecting our databases. We all share a common wish for extraordinary levels of engagement, yet we have large percentages of our databases that are dark and silent.

As consumers (and the ultimate backseat watchers of other marketers), we’ve all gone silent on our email subscriptions. And we all know why we stop engaging with these communications.

However, many of us haven’t thought proactively about why our own subscribers go silent on our marketing efforts. What should we do about the dark, silent areas of our house list?

Understanding the Cues

Depending on your business, it’s likely your subscribers are sending you a variety of silent messages as they ignore your emails. Here’s a sampling:

  • “I already bought.”These contacts may have purchased from another channel, a competitor or even purchased used. No matter the reason, they aren’t in the market anymore.
  • “I changed jobs.” — These prospects signed up because they were interested for their old job, but they’ve moved on and your products/services are no longer on their radar.
  • “I just wanted your one-time discount.” — Ouch. That hurts, but it’s the reality for many shoppers.
  • “I was just educating myself.” These contacts were in college or getting an MBA and thought your ebook or white paper would help with their dissertation. Nice, but they won’t be customers until they get that master’s degree (and the big job that comes with it).
  • “I have different priorities at the moment.” Whoops, these silent subscribers just got new projects dumped in their laps, so your offerings are going on the back burner for a while. Or, perhaps they just don’t have time right now.
  • “My interests have changed.” The products, services and content these contacts are looking to engage with have shifted for various reasons, and they won’t re-engage with you until your messaging reflects this.
  • “I don’t often check this email address.” The address you have on file is no longer the primary email address for these recipients, and they haven’t gotten around to changing it — perhaps because the process isn’t intuitive.

In order to properly handle a silent subscriber, you need to figure out why they went dark, because you might treat each silent reason differently.

Using Progressive Forms

If you only have a person’s name and email address in your database, you’re restricted in the automated reactivation campaigns you can build and run. So, while it won’t help you with subscribers who have already gone inactive, make it a point to start capturing more than just email addresses and names in your database. On your landing pages, use progressive forms — which enable you to set logic-based rules and pose new questions each time contacts visit — to help with this.

Building a Reactivation Series

Let’s assume for a minute that you lack data that would indicate why subscribers have gone inactive. For contacts for whom you only have an email address, try designing a three- or four-part email series with some blockbuster subject lines and content that differ from your normal messaging. Examples might include:

  • “Sorry to See You Go”
  • “Unfortunately I Have to Say Goodbye”
  • “Update Your Preferences and Win Prizes!”
  • “Tell Us Why You’re So Quiet”

If a subscriber doesn’t open or click any of your reactivation messages, archive the contact off your database or permanently delete the record. The nice thing about this approach is that you’ll likely see your open and click percentages go up since your database size will decrease.

Learning from Your Mistakes

When silent subscribers do engage with you during your reactivation campaign, you’ll want to find out why they went quiet. Try a mobile-friendly, one question email with push-button answers. (IBM Marketing Cloud landing page functionality can help with this.) Based on the answer, you’ll want to tailor your content and messaging accordingly.

For example, you might give recent purchasers the opportunity to “snooze” their subscription until they’re back in the market. Or, you might add a student researcher tag in a field in your database so you keep sending to these contacts, but with reduced expectations.

Whatever your approach, don’t just add these reawakened subscribers back into your house list and start re-blasting them with one-size-fits-all messages. If you do, I promise they’ll go silent much faster next time around.

Dialing Them Up

What about silent subscribers for whom you have phone numbers? Consider asking your call center to contact these dormant contacts. Give the call center associates a quality call script that enables you to capture final contact dispositions, get an updated email if available, and put these subscribers into the appropriate re-engagement campaign. If there’s no answer after a few tries, archive and delete the records.

Negotiate with the call center manager to determine how many calls can be completed each week. This initial project should help you forge some new relationships that can help add a whole new dimension to your future digital campaigns.

Understanding Silence at Other Parts of the Customer Journey

Ignoring emails is just one of the ways silence manifests itself among your customers and prospects. Depending on your business, other forms of silence might include:

  • Putting items in a shopping cart but not completing a purchase
  • Signing up for a trial but not following through on later steps in the process
  • Downloading a mobile app but never using it

Whatever the sounds of silence your contacts are making, taking the time to understand why these customers and prospects have gone quiet will make you a better marketer. Once you’ve examined the reasons for this silence from your contacts’ perspective, you’ll be prepared to take the best action to reconnect with these special segments of your database.

Learn More:

1) White Paper: “Customer Journey Maps and Buyers Personas: The Modern Tool Kit for Markters

2) Blog: “5 Ways to Become a Marketing Torchbearer

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


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