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Reactivating Inactives: Three Tips to Get Them Back on Board

Despite your hard work and what is in your opinion a well-planned and flawlessly executed email campaign, you may still find yourself with deadwood on your list. Recipients who have been inactive, meaning no opens and no clicks, for six months or more are dragging down your campaign's performance.

There are a variety of reasons why recipients stop responding to your messages. Generally speaking, it boils down to the following factors:

  • They were never fully engaged as new subscribers.
  • Their interests have shifted, therefore your mailings are now irrelevant.
  • They signed up for your emails just to get some freebie, download a white paper, etc. They were never engaged, but never unsubscribed after they got what they initially wanted.
  • Weak content, including subject lines. The messages didn't meet the subscriber's expectations or opt-in promises.
  • Your emails are getting routed to the junk/spam folder which recipients rarely check, if at all.
  • They've abandoned their free email account or rarely check it as they have designated it the "spam" account-the email address they provide when signing up for contests, promotions and the like.

No matter the reason for inactivity, consider these three tips to reactive your recipients and get them engaged again.

1. Define Inactives
First, define inactivity and see how much of your list has gone dormant. You may consider subscribers with no opens or clicks for a particular length of time inactive. You may designate another portion of your list slightly inactive if they have scant activity for an extended period of time and haven't purchased anything in the past year. Whatever the criteria, make sure you clearly define the parameters and segment these recipients based on their behavior into groups.

2. Try to Re-Engage Them with a Conversation
Once you have segmented your list based on activity level, create an email campaign that appeals to the different groups you identified. For instance, if you divided your list into three basic categories: active, slightly active and inactive, consider sending messages that include the following:

  • A survey asking them how your email program can better meet their needs and what kind of content, products, etc. would be of most interest to them. Then create new profiles for these preferences and personalize their emails accordingly going forward.
  • A "can't refuse" offer, typically for your most active customers, or package up a "best of" series if you are a content provider.
  • A trigger- or lifecycle-based program for slightly active subscribers using click activity, purchase history or other behavior-based data.
  • A final email to your inactives letting them know that unless they opt-in again, they will no longer receive emails from you. Chances are if a subscriber hasn't opened or clicked in 12-18 months or more and has ignored your "reactivation" attempts, then the relationship has probably run its course anyway and it's time to let go.

Additionally, another reason to remove old addresses from your list is that ISPs are increasingly taking old, abandoned addresses and using them as "spam traps." Send too many emails to these spam trap accounts and it's likely your messages will get blocked.

3. Evaluate Your Email Program for Inactivity Triggers
Once you have completed your first reactivation campaign, examine your email program for practices that could trigger inactives. For example:

  • Don't pursue irrelevant subscribers. Be careful when running acquisition campaigns built around incentives, contests, etc., that have little to do with your email program. Avoid participating in co-registration deals with incompatible partners.
  • Mind the frequency. Are you mailing too often or not enough? Both can lead subscribers to disengage without taking the extra step of unsubscribing. If possible, offer recipients a choice of how often they want to hear from you. Migrate away from the "batch and blast" approach towards more triggered, lifecycle and behavior-based messaging.
  • Manage their expectations. Are you delivering what you promised at opt-in? Modify both your opt-in page and email program as necessary to ensure that you are meeting or exceeding subscriber expectations.
  • Know the competition. Are your key competitors delivering a greater experience to mutual subscribers than you are? Take the opportunity to learn what your competition is doing well and not so well. Adjust your program accordingly and win them back.
  • Simplify your unsubscribe process. Is it super easy to unsubscribe from your program, or are you hiding the unsubscribe link? Some readers may either give up or distrust the link enough not to use it. Make your unsubscribe link clearly visible and modify your unsubscribe page to offer alternatives to unsubscribing, like allowing them to change their email address or their preferences for frequency, content, interests and format.

Re-engaging recipients takes an understanding of who they are and what they want. If they are potentially interested in your products or services, a few tweaks to your campaign and using what you know about them could yield great results for your program. By reinvigorating your list and eliminating those who are completely inactive, you're likely to boost deliverability and improve your metrics.

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