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Ken Magill

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Ask an Expert: When/How to Reactivate


This week’s ask-an-expert question is a two parter:

1) What are the most effective tactics you have seen for reactivating non-responsive email addresses?
2) How do I decide when an address is inactive?

Once again, we turn to the experts on Bill McCloskey’s Only Influencers discussion list, an invitation-only list of online marketing experts:

Stephanie Miller, vice president of digital messaging, Aprimo: I love this question! The most success I've seen is when it's done regularly as part of an overall subscriber nurturing program. Don't wait two years to try to re-engage people who have long since been ignoring your messages. Hope is not a strategy.

Instead, implement a regular 90-day outreach that tries to win back inactive customers so there is still some thread of connection to your brand and program. Send something different than you normally send... a survey, a thank you, a witty poem, a bit of relevant news, a personal note from the store manager or sales rep. Just breaking up the monotony can help rejuvenate the program and keep subscribers active longer.

We just did this with a travel/hospitality customer and found that the 90-day data responded 5x more than the 12-month data. We also found that a subject line with the brand name in it did 2x worse than the other. Your mileage may vary. Test!
What do others think or do?

Jeanne Jennings, consultant, email marketing strategy:

What are the most effective tactics you have seen for reactivating non-responsive email addresses?

I always start with online methods -- notes on the top of email messages we're already sending to the inactive recipients as well as standalone email messages. They work best when the standalone messages contain a "personal appeal" from someone in the organization -- and when they include detailed benefits and advantages as a reason for the recipient to re-engage.

If budget allows, I always follow-up with at least one appeal via U.S. Postal Mail. Sounds crazy, but especially when you are dealing with personal email addresses it's a good way to reach people that have abandoned the email address you've got but who are happy to provide their new email address for future communications (I always provide three options in every communication: confirm your interest at this email address, unsubscribe, provide a new email address where you want messages sent).

Channels are important, but of course it's the copy that determines the success or failure of a campaign. In a recent campaign for a client I got 6 percent of inactives to confirm they wanted to continue to receive email; 84 percent of these came from the stand alone email messages. Ten percent came from the direct-mail effort and 5 percent came from notes at the top of email messages we were sending anyway.

How do I decide when an address is inactive?

It varies, depending on how often you send and how aggressive you want to be. Obviously the sooner you catch and address the non-responsiveness, the better. If you're sending daily email messages, my rule of thumb is one to three months. If you're sending weekly, it's three to six months. If you're sending monthly, six months to a year.

Andy Thorpe, deliverability and compliance manager, Pure 360: Offer a big, very attractive voucher running in conjunction with adverts for it on-site where an email address was required to enter and get it like a sign-up prize. Same thing on Facebook and Twitter.

People who are not engaged want to be, people who were getting it to junk went looking for it and safe listed it for the future.

Retarget non-opens twice a week or so later with more and more audacity and then knock off the non-responders after that.

Works best with a logged in state on the website, this way people have to log in to get the voucher and you don't have to worry as much about people giving a phony address just for the free stuff.

Karen Talavera, principal, consultant, Synchronicity Marketing: I agree with many of the recommendations already submitted but would add this one to effective tactics: Shock and Awe. Here's what this means to me:

1) Do whatever you have to get the attention of "inactives" with email reactivation campaigns. This will likely include a drastic departure from your usual (perhaps boring) email tone. I don't suggest screwing with or subverting your own brand, just courageous experimentation with email message subject lines, layout, headlines and copy that will stand up and salute people in the inbox. If they're inactive, they've either been ignoring you, are bored by you, or are now completely outside your target market. In any case, you need to be so noticeable in the inbox they can't miss you.

2) Then, offer them something they're totally not expecting - it doesn't have to be huge and lucrative although could be - but it does have to be out of the blue. Maybe it's a free one-month trial to a program they've been interested in but not enough to actually pay for. Maybe it's a vanity product that has some affinity to your own brand (something very in vogue). Maybe free access to a live event - or some sort of VIP status. Maybe it's entry into a sweeps -only you know what is not your normal "me too" offer.

3) Be direct and to the point in your language and copy. Tell them point blank you want them back, but only if it makes sense for them. If they truly are now no longer in market for your products/services, ENCOURAGE them to unsubscribe - they're dead weight on your list otherwise, slowly dragging down your campaign metrics with their inaction. Let them know you want what makes sense for them and for you, whatever that is. The most important thing is that they show some sign of life by deciding to either re-engage or disengage. Some action is better than none.

How do I decide when an email address is inactive?

Everyone will have different thresholds and benchmarks for this, but I say no opens/clicks/conversions in at least the last 90 days should be enough to start triggering reactivation campaigns. Of course, that assumes you're sending email at a high enough volume (say, at least once/week) for a recipient to have more than just a handful of emails to interact with in that three-month window. Let's also remember there can be different levels of "active" we're striving for - for example a) re-engaging totally non-responsive list members (showing zero signs of life, not even an open), b) moving those who've opened-only but never bought to make first purchase, and c) stimulating re-peat purchase from one-time buyers who haven't bought/converted in x-months.

Neil Capel, founder and CEO, Sailthru: I'd argue it's the wrong question, keep your users engaged by increasing relevancy constantly...if you have to do re-engagement campaigns they should not be run as a "campaign" they should happen in relation to the users activity as they happen. So today you send two emails trying to reactivate people, tomorrow 25 - it should never be a segment you create to send at point X.


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