3 Steps to Successful Subscriber Reengagement

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Relationships with your subscribers begin just like any other—with a pretty exquisite honeymoon period.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, new subscribers get excited about whatever you send their way. They blush when you surprise them at work with a “just for you” discount. They anxiously check the time when your newsletter is ten minutes late. Your personalization techniques make them smile, prompting a forward to their friends: “They really get me!”

As time passes, interest tends to wane. Another coupon code? Meh. 30 more photos of cute cats? Yawn. A newsletter full of untargeted content? Really?

Not to worry! Just because the initial spark is gone doesn’t mean you have to grow apart. Through strategic reengagement campaigns, you can remind subscribers that you’re unforgettable (because that’s what you are).

WHY BOTHER WITH REENGAGEMENT?

Subscribers stop engaging with brands’ emails for a wide variety of reasons. The opens naturally trail off and clicks fade away over time. Although you’ll find many subscribers just turn out not to be the right fit for you, many of them can be won back!

Reengagement campaigns are your opportunity to remind your inactive subscribers why they were attracted to your brand in the first place. By effectively targeting your unengaged subscribers with a well-timed strategic message and reinforcing your value proposition, you can renew your vows and avoid the painful “it’s not me, it’s you” unsubscribe.

Subscribers who have stopped opening your emails can have negative implications on your deliverability. Definitions of “spam” aren’t as content-focused as they used to be. As ISPs are focusing more and more on how subscribers are responding to your emails, reengaging those inactive subscribers can improve your inbox placement.

In this Campaign Monitor interview with the Gmail Anti-Abuse Team, a Gmail representative said that they want to “see evidence that your recipients love, or at the very least, want your messages” as a determining factor for whether or not you land in the Spam folder.

If the balance is off between your active and inactive subscribers, ISPs might start to think you’re a low quality sender and relegate you to the junk folder—or worse, block you altogether. To avoid this, attempt to reengage your inactive subscribers and say goodbye to those who just won’t open or click, no matter how hard you try.

Three major steps comprise a proper reengagement strategy:

  • Determining who you will be reengaging
  • Creating your reengagement campaigns
  • Saying farewell to permanent inactives

DETERMINING WHO TO REENGAGE

The definition of an inactive subscriber will be unique to each company, but ultimately you need to be able to define an inactive subscriber as someone who has not opened/clicked within a certain amount of time.

A few factors to keep in mind when trying to define your timeframe:

  • Types of behavior: Reengagement strategies tend to be based primarily on email behavior: a lack of opens or clicks over a certain period of time. You could also include onsite behavior and purchase behavior in your mix. If you do, remember that just because you have an email address for a customer who is actively making purchases doesn’t mean that address is a valid one, or a good one to reach them at.
  • Frequency: You may need to consider longer or shorter timeframes for inactivity based on your sending frequency. For example, a daily deals site might define an inactive subscriber as someone who hasn’t engaged with an email in 90 days, whereas a company that sends a monthly newsletter may need to consider subscriber activity over a longer timeframe (usually six months to a year).
  • Customer lifecycle: If your customer lifecycle is fairly long, or your customers tend to be infrequent purchasers, you will want to consider a longer inactivity time frame to mirror that behavior.

Instead of making a best guess, analyze your existing subscriber history. Use past data to determine the average amount of time between when subscribers sign up and when they stop engaging with emails, and strategize your reengagement program around that window of time.

Once you’ve established your definition of inactivity, create a workflow of reengagement emails that begin slightly before that timeframe. For example, if you decide on three months of inactivity, start your reengagement campaigns after a subscriber has been inactive for a month and a half. Try to catch them before they are too far gone, so you have the best chance of winning them back!

REENGAGEMENT CAMPAIGN STRATEGIES

When thinking about reengagement, remember that your subscribers haven’t been responding to what you’ve been sending, so you have to send something else!

You can change a few things about your emails to see what resonates:

Content

Mix up your content and send something a little out of the ordinary (but still on brand). Try sending each subscriber a personalized promo code, with special messaging about how you haven’t seen them in a while. (Make sure you test offers to see what gets the most attention!) You could also highlight a few things that may be new or have changed since they last visited your site.

This reengagement example from StruckAxiom shows inactive subscribers that there’s a whole new site they can explore. It also has a light and fun tone, keeping in their brand’s style:

struckaxiom

To get valuable feedback while also reengaging subscribers, you could send an incentivized survey. People love to share their opinions, particularly if there’s a reward on the other side! The right incentive could catch their attention in the inbox and prompt an open.

Style

It’s likely that most of your emails have been designed as HTML emails with your brand as the from name. Consider sending a plain text email from a customer support representative, as a “check-in” with the subscriber. Ask if they have any questions about your product and reinforce the idea that you’re there to help.

In this example from WeddingWire, their Senior Customer Satisfaction Manager is reaching out for feedback from inactive subscribers through a plain-text survey:

ww-example-2

Be prepared for responses and coordinate with your support team to get them ready for the increased volume. You’ll be surprised at the things your customers write back to you! You might discover consistent problems that users have had with your site or product that can inform future strategy.

You should still use HTML to create the appearance of a plain text email so that your email service provider will include an open tracking pixel. You wouldn’t want to send a reengagement email and not know if anyone opened it!

Cadence

Subscriber inactivity is often a symptom of email fatigue. You’ve sent too many emails—and they aren’t special anymore. There’s no longer a sense of excitement when they arrive in the inbox.

Try putting your inactive subscribers on “pause” for a period of time, and then resume your normal sending schedule afterward. Don’t let them go dormant too long, as you don’t want them to forget your brand or that they opted-in to your communications. However, a good break could be what you and your inactive subscribers need to keep the love alive. Absence just might, as they say, make the heart grow fonder.

SOMETIMES, YOU JUST HAVE TO CALL IT QUITS

Since you’ve determined that these subscribers are the least likely to engage, don’t expect huge conversion rates. Numbers will be small, but any win is a win in this scenario; you’re awakening subscribers who seem to have lost that lovin’ feeling (oh, that lovin’ feeling).

Even with a strong reengagement strategy, you will find that most of your inactive subscribers will stay that way. After you’ve tried your hardest to woo them back, you’ll need to have an honest conversation about parting ways.

While you don’t have to unsubscribe or remove them from your ESP, it’s in your best interest to stop sending to your inactives by separating them out from your normal send lists. This might require some advanced management of your subscriber lists inside your platform.

In fact, there is a benefit in not removing or unsubscribing them—they can still find their way back onto your “active” send list! If they open and engage with one of your older emails, you may choose to move them back over to your active send lists.

For the sake of your sender reputation in the ISPs’ eyes, you need a healthy balance of active and inactive subscribers. Manually scrubbing inactives from your list will restore that balance to your database and can repair your sender reputation.

METRICS FOR SUCCESS

If you’re implementing a reengagement program, establish some key metrics to monitor. Here are a few to consider:

  • Are you increasing the percentage of active users in your database? Divide active users over total users, and monitor this number as you start to attempt reengagement.
  • Are you decreasing your spam complaint rate? This is often a natural byproduct of proactively removing inactive users from your database. You decrease the chances of over-mailed users marking you as spam.
  • Are your deliverability rates improving? As you reach a healthier balance between active and inactive users, you should see your deliverability rates improve. This might take time, though, so don’t expect immediate results.

Often, people trumpet higher open rates as the result of reengagement and list hygiene. That’s to be expected, though. If you stop sending to people who are highly unlikely to open your emails, your open rate will be higher by default. Higher open rates should not inherently be considered the sign of successful reengagement; they are automatic.

No matter how you end up tackling reengagement, stay focused on reeinforcing the value of your brand. Near, far, wherever you are; customers for whom you are truly a good fit will find their way back to you, and you can find that honeymoon phase all over again.

And that, email marketers, is the way love goes.

LET’S GET TO KNOW ONE ANOTHER

Ready to take this relationship to the next level? Subscribe to our newsletter! Each month, we’ll send you our best case studies, tips and resources. (And if you stop opening, we just might try to reengage you!)

  • Zachary Ballenger

    Your campaign monitor link is bad. Looks like the litmus blog link appended to the CM blog link. Great article otherwise.

    • http://www.litmus.com Justine, Litmus

      Looks like we left off the “http”! All fixed now, thanks for letting us know!

      • Zachary Ballenger

        Anytime Justine, you’re my hero. :)

  • Matt Lawrence

    Matt, great post. A solid strategy for re-engagement. I recently received this example from Not On The High Street. (It was animated too!)

    https://www.evernote.com/shard/s277/sh/a695e006-11ae-468f-b5fa-62f8be134f4b/ae165bb44368bc64707e77330098759d

    • Matt Byrd

      Thanks for sharing that example! I really like that they prominently feature the Unsubscribe link. I think too many people are afraid to do that.

  • Guest

    Amazing! It looks like I found a sAmazing! It looks like I found a summer Project! ummer Project!

  • http://www.gonoodle.com Derek Ward

    Amazing! It looks like I found my “Summer Project”

    • Matt Byrd

      Let me know how it goes, Derek. Good luck! :)

  • Christopher Payne

    Just implemented our first one yesterday. I’m excited to see how it goes!

    • Matt Byrd

      Woohoo! Comment back and let us know!

  • Anniepoohster

    I’ve started implementing these tips with a couple of our regular e-newsletters. I work for a large nonprofit membership association, which in some ways is similar to the companies you target with this message except we’re only selling ideas and our desired actions are advocacy not purchasing. Would be interesting to see you do a post on how reengagement campaigns could be tailored to that context.

    • Matt Byrd

      Hi Annie! I think the WeddingWire example in this post would still be quite applicable to you. The messaging there is pretty broad; it’s not tied to purchases, but rather just inquires about the user’s email preferences. I could see that style working really well for you.

  • Traction Digital

    Great post! Especially love that WeddingWire have put the top 5 reasons in the email, making it really easy for users to give feedback. We’ve got a few other examples of clients who have used re-engagement as part of their routine database cleanses here: http://www.traction-digital.com/data-cleansing/

  • Pingback: 3 Tips and tricks to drive engagement with your brand through digital communications | Striata()

  • Laurie Roberts

    Hi Matt. This post was super helpful! I have a pretty specific question — my organization recently merged with another more established group with a large email list, and we rebranded as part of that merger. Now we have a list of many thousands, but who haven’t received a single email from the old organization since winter. We want to run a resubscribe campaign to re-engage these people and introduce them to the new brand, but I’m not sure how to do this. I’m not even sure what email client to use, since Mailchimp said we can’t email 10k people to ask them to resubscribe! Any advice?