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The One Piece of Conventional Wisdom We Should Bury

By Ken Magill
MailChimp published the results of a groundbreaking study in February in which the small-market email service provider found that inactive email subscribers are worth more than customers who are not email subscribers.
In the study, MailChimp analyzed 60 million ecommerce purchases and 40 million email addresses.
“After crunching all the numbers, we’ve got some great news—it turns out that 1 inactive subscriber is worth 32% of an active subscriber,” the post said. “That’s a lot of revenue! We also learned that inactive subscribers purchase more frequently and are less likely to churn than customers who aren’t subscribed to your email list. This isn’t what we and a lot of other folks have said over the years, so allow us to explain a little more.”
Give MailChimp credit for saying right up front the results of the study ran counter to advice email marketing professionals had been giving for years: that email marketers should remove inactive addresses after a certain period of time of no clicks or opens, say 12 or 18 months.
Clearly, removing email addresses from a file just because they’ve shown no click or open activity for a certain period of time is a bad idea.
To give credit where credit is due, the loudest critic of folks advocating removing email addresses solely because they’re inactive has been Dela Quist, CEO of email marketing agency Alchemy Worx.
I forwarded Quist a link to MailChimp’s post, saying in the email “People are starting to come around.”
Normally, I’d have been all over MailChimp’s post. But I missed it when it was published and by the time I ran across it, it was months-old news. So I let it go.
Well, apparently I’m not the only one who missed MailChimp’s post. An article headlined “15 ways to improve your email marketing campaigns” that ran on CIO magazine’s website yesterday ended with the following quote:
“Up to 40 percent of your subscribers are inactive,” says [a digital marketing manager who I won’t name because he’s just repeating conventional wisdom]. “Sending email marketing campaigns to subscribers that do not open or read your emails can negatively impact email delivery rates. Simply remove subscribers who haven't opened up an email within the last 12 months and instead focus on the subscribers that do engage with your campaigns.”
No, no, no. A thousand times no. You don’t simply remove subscribers who haven't opened up an email within the last 12 months. Ever.
To everyone who is still advising clients and employers to remove email addresses after a certain period of inactivity: Stop. It. You’re needlessly costing them money.
MailChimp recommends identifying inactive subscribers and offers ways to treat them.
“Don’t prune them from your list, though,” the MailChimp post said. “This is the opposite of what we and many other marketing companies have said over the years, but the data backs it up: An inactive subscriber is a better customer than a non-subscriber.”
If you haven’t already, read MailChimp’s whole post here. And for cryin’ out loud, don’t trim those inactives and stop telling others to do so.

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: David Toushek -Return Path
Date: 2016-05-12 11:35:21
Subject: Don't remove them -ENGAGE THEM!

I love this article so much. So many marketers have made the mistake of simply cutting off the "inactives" or "unengaged" for the sake of "deliverability" figuring that -they're unengaged anyway, might as well cut them off and improve deliverability..

The problem is there's a lot of truth to this argument since a large inactive file IS very likely to create problems. To deny that is to misunderstand how mailbox filtering works. As Duh-la Quist points out below you're very likely going to have issues with bad email addresses, spam traps, black lists etc. All of which are going to cause problems reaching the inbox thereby reducing your ability to reach even your engaged subscribers.

BUT as the Mailchimp article points out there's something else hiding inside that "inactive" file too... REVENUE -and lot's of it!!

So yes, you could blindly cut your list by 40% thereby removing many of the problems that were likely causing deliverability issues, OR you could get the right data and expertise and get to the ROOT of your problems thereby allowing you to reach the inbox and even ENGAGE the (so called) "unengaged".

Bottom line: don't fail to engage your audience, blame them for being unengaged and then cut them off. ...only to spend more money getting new subscribers which you're also going to fail to engage -and then cut off. Instead, figure out what YOU'RE doing wrong and fix it! Your subscribers have done their part in signing up for your email program. It's your job to figure out how to engage them.

And for the love of god, don't ever cut off anyone from your list if you can't tell with a good amount of confidence if your email is even getting to their inbox versus just being "Delivered".
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2016-04-22 13:33:11
Subject: Big assumption

Hey Andrew: If by holdout you mean don't mail them, that would certainly yield better data. No argument here.
Posted by: Andrew McIver
Date: 2016-04-21 17:32:03
Subject: Big assumption

This article makes a big assumption that the inactive group would behave the same way as the non-subscribed group if not exposed to email. It’s reasonable to assume the inactive group is more engaged with the brand given they had bothered to opt-in at some point. It seems a more valid experiment would be to create a holdout group of inactive subscribers and compare them to the inactives after X amount of time.
Posted by: Duh-la Quist
Date: 2016-04-19 15:30:14
Subject: Email is simple and all email guidance should be simple and uniform

...or not.

Let's envision two polar opposite scenarios:
1. A client that is showing very close to perfect delivery (to the inbox). in this scenario, I would not recommend the client cut their list.
2. A client is suffering major blocking and filtering to spam folders. Evidence indicates, high bad address rates, high complaint rates (when accounting for amount of mail reaching the inbox), a significant number of trap hits to various trap providers and blacklistings which are found to be driven by both complaints and trap hits. In this scenario, you do recommend chopping the list based on activity.

Now imagine (for true email professionals, this will not require any imagination) that there are hundreds of thousands of marketers that are caught inbetween example 1 and example 2.

Dela creates a world in which he is not responsible for any sender outside of scenario 1. He must create this world as it is not a reality for a very large percentage of marketers. Chopping a list is not needed, until it is needed. To determine if it is needed, you'll need to speak to a professional who is not peddling snake oil.