How to bring inactive subscribers back to life

Last updated: 
June 18, 2020

Don't just write off apparently dead email addresses - see them as an opportunity to reinvigorate your email list... Looking at your list is like being the boy in the film The Sixth Sense - you see dead emails everywhere. But the fact that someone doesn't open an email, doesn't mean they should be struck from your list. In fact, there are good reasons for sticking with apparently inactive subscribers. After all, how often do you actively interact with marketing communications of any kind from a car dealer, insurance company, estate agent, bank, consumer electronics retailer, hotel chain, etc. delivered via other channels?

Why stick with silent subscribers: the power of the nudge effect

Just because a user isn't opening an email, it doesn't mean they're not registering with your brand. The simple presence of your email activity in their inbox creates a powerful nudge effect - a subliminal stimulus which has several advantages: Regularly seeing your brand in their inbox may prompt the subscriber to respond via another channel such as a telephone sale or store visit. An engaging subject line reminds the subscriber of what you're good at and/or any great offers you might currently be running; this may prompt a response or a referral .Your emails keep your brand front of mind, so even if they don't transact with you today, they may in the future.

Many best practice guidelines recommend that you remove anyone on the list who has not opened and email for a long time (typically 1 year), because failing to do so might damage your reputation with the ISPs and cause your messages to be bounced or delivered to the junk folder. However, as most practicing email marketers know, things are never that simple!In reality: You cannot assume that everyone who has not opened for any given time period definitely wants to be removed from the list. It is almost impossible to truly quantify the financial impact caused by sending email to dead addresses. The cost of continuing to send email to these people is very low. The revenue generated by addresses that have been inactive for a while can be quite significant.

How to identify exactly when to remove truly dead email addresses

At Alchemy Worx we have developed a simple strategy to help our clients decide if, and when, to remove an email address from the list, while maintaining their reputation. Send a reactivation campaign: Try to re-engage anyone who hasn't opened an email for more than 6, or even 12 months. Separate your lists: Anyone who still hasn't opened an email after the reactivation campaign should be placed on a separate list to your active recipients. Send the same email to each list and focus on activity: The active list will now show a truer representation of engagement and your results will not be brought down by the dead email list. After every mailing (or month), move anyone who becomes active again to your active list and anyone on the active list that now qualifies as inactive by your definition, to the inactive list.

You'll now be able to clearly identify exactly how much revenue emailing the dead addresses is generating and how much it is costing you. If possible, use a separate IP address for each list: That way you will minimize the impact of the "dead" addresses on your reputation. Analyse over time before deleting anyone: Within 6 to 12 months you'll have a much better sense of how long you should continue to email an unresponsive email address before removing it from the list.

We have generally found it to be the point in time where almost every person that opens an email for the first time in a while, goes on to unsubscribe.

3 ways to reactivate inactive subscribers

Some tried-and-trusted methods to reinvigorate interest in your email activity:

Re-engage them: re-awaken their interest with polls, competitions or quizzes.

Incentivise: create a promotional offer or special deal that offers a tangible benefit to re-engaging with your email activity.

Try and try again: try different methods a number of times before deleting a subscriber from your list.

Last updated: Aug 14, 2017

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