Inactive Schminactive: Keep the Names, Says Quist
By Ken Magill
Dela Quist is a heretic.
Why? Because the idea that inactive email addresses in and of themselves constitute any kind of a deliverability threat to mainstream marketers is a bunch of hokum, according to the CEO of London-based email marketing agency Alchemy Worx.
Moreover, according to Quist, attempting to lift engagement metrics, such as opens and clicks, is a fool’s errand.
“Inactivity is normal activity,” said Quist in an interview with The Magill Report. “Inactivity is the default position for consumers. Highly engaged people are outliers.
“Setting a goal of engagement is almost doomed to failure,” he added. “A strategy that relies on getting open rates higher rarely delivers more revenue. There’s no ROI in removing inactive names.”
To many in mainstream email marketing circles—or at least among email’s so-called thought leaders—those would be the words of a man who should be burned at the stake.
Conventional email-marketing wisdom has it that marketers with large lists containing a high percentage of addresses owned by people who haven't opened or clicked in a year or more risk getting their messages filtered as spam.
As a result, some experts have been recommending marketers consider removing addresses after a year or more of inactivity.
Nonsense, says Quist.
“Thirty five to 65 percent of every list I've ever looked at have not opened for more than a year,” he said. “If you remove inactives this year and look again next year, you will probably find that about 50 percent [of the new, smaller list] are inactive a year later.”
Perform the same purge five years in a row and we've got a recipe for list decimation, according to Quist. Half of a typical list will always be inactive for a year or more, but which half is a shifting target, he said.
Quist calls inactive names on permission-based lists “unemotional subscribers.”
“They’re on your list [legitimately]. They just don’t need you right now,” he said.
The segment of a typical marker’s file that has been inactive for 12 months or more will generally respond—with at least an open—at a rate of between 1 and 3 percent, said Quist.
As a result, the idea of not mailing them is ludicrous, he said. “If those inactive names were on your competitor’s file and I guaranteed you would get a 1 to 3 percent response, would you mail them? Of course you would.”
And Quist’s email heresy doesn’t stop there.
As far as he’s concerned, sending email to inactive addresses poses no deliverability threat to email marketers whatsoever.
Most any mainstream marketer’s email will so obviously outperform spam selling, say, fake Rolexes or Viagra, that email’s major inbox providers have no trouble telling which is which, said Quist.
“ISPs are trying to stop spam and largely they’ve been very successful at it,” he said. “They can tell the difference [between spam and mainstream marketing emails] and we do get into the inbox.
“Mailing to inactives is unlikely to get a marketer in trouble,” Quist added. “Fifty five percent active in a year is an engaged list. An ISP won’t confuse that with a porn or Viagra spam.”
Also, marketers who worry about the effects new inbox sorting tools available to webmail users will have on their deliverability should rest easy, said Quist.
“Only the most sophisticated users will use the sorting tools,” he said.
Quist also claims the idea that marketers are flooding consumers’ inboxes with unwanted email is silly.
“If you’re getting a lot of [marketing] email it’s because you signed up for it,” he said. “We are not the problem. The problem is your co-worker and your boss.”
Still not done contradicting the high priests of email marketing, Quist said the constant calls for marketers to send “relevant” email are misguided.
“Relevance is the cart and we’re placing it before the horse,” he said. “The horse is value. The definition of relevance is ‘something of value.’ The definition of value doesn’t have relevance in it.”
For example, Quist said, at an email-marketing conference he could offer someone a piece of paper about email marketing and a $10 bill.
“One has relevance the other has value,” he said. “Which do you think they’ll take? Rather than focusing on relevance, marketers should focus on delivering value.”