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Really Simple E-mail Segmentation: Reengaging Inactives

  |  July 14, 2008   |  Comments

The first step in reengaging inactive e-mail recipients.

A few weeks ago, I introduced a simple segmentation model that relies on observed behavior:

Segmentation Using Email Metrics

Any marketer tracking basic e-mail metrics will be able to use this model to better target content and, hopefully, improve performance. It's not that this model is better than others that segment by interest, industry, or another differentiator. It's that it relies on information that should be available from even the most basic e-mail marketing program.

My previous two columns focused on group one: those new to your list. Last time, I talked about welcome messages and series to engage these readers at a critical point in the e-mail relationship.

This column and the next will discuss group two: those who have not opened, clicked, or converted (read: purchased, filled out a lead generation form, or taken another desired end-game action) in recent history. This group is often referred to as inactives or deadwood. The first column in this series talked about how to identify this group; now we'll discuss why and how you should treat them differently than the rest of your list.

Inactive addresses are problematic for several reasons. First, if you use an e-mail service provider (ESP), you likely paying by either the amount of e-mail you send or list size. Either way, if recipients aren't opening, clicking on, or otherwise responding to your e-mail, continuing to send to them isn't money well spent. The only exception to this would be a revenue model based on advertising fees in which your sponsors look only at the size of your list, not its activity. But most savvy online advertisers today factor in activity, and as ad budgets get tighter, this information will become even more important in deciding where their dollars go. When the decision is between two lists of equal size, the list with the higher activity will win.

The second reason is deliverability. If these folks really aren't that into you, they may take the next step and report you as spam. It's like that shunned suitor who just won't go away; eventually the victim will consider him a stalker and get a restraining order. Keeping inactive names on your list can open you up to blacklisting and deliverability issues.

One more reason to pay attention to this group: the ISPs managing the e-mail address may decide to label your e-mail as spam. It's widely believed that many ISPs monitor e-mail sent to accounts that haven't been accessed in a long time (six months or more) and blacklist companies that continue to send e-mail to them.

What to do? Once you identify the inactives on your list you should develop and implement a reactivation campaign. The goals of a reactivation campaign are two-fold: you want to reengage members of the list that are interested in having an e-mail relationship with your organization and encourage those who don't to unsubscribe from your list.

I say "campaign" because your reactivation initiative should involve multiple phases, efforts, and possibly channels.

Phase One

Phase one of a reactivation campaign should be undertaken in the most cost-effective way possible. Start by including language that will appear in the preview pane of whatever standard e-mail communications you send. Here's an example from Union Plus:

    Would you like to continue receiving e-mail from Union Plus?

    Yes, I would like to continue to receive e-mails from Union Plus -- http://www.unionvoice.org/ct/hdLZ1v

    No, please remove me from the Union Plus e-mail list -- http://www.unionvoice.org/up/remove-domain-direct.tcl?ctx=center&nkey=wnwg

This language should only be included on e-mail sent to the inactive group; other recipients shouldn't see it. The URLs are shown so that even if links aren't live, recipients can copy and paste them into their browsers to access the pages.

I know what you're thinking: if inactives aren't opening the e-mail, they won't see this message. True. But even though you don't have a record of the open, they may be opening it. If they read it with images blocked or open it on a text-based mobile e-mail device, it won't trigger an open.

When I do reactivation work, usually 3 percent to 7 percent of those who confirm they want to continue to receive e-mail do so from this language in an e-mail newsletter or other regularly sent missive. You may also get a small percentage of unsubscribes this way. Even though an unsubscribe mechanism was included in all the e-mail they've been getting, the prominence of it seems to increase activity. This is a cost-effective way to begin the process and skim off the cream of your inactives.

You'll want to continue to include this language until the end of your reactivation program (usually two to three months). If your intention is to remove those who don't respond from the list, then the final sends should be amended to read:

    Would you like to continue receiving e-mail from Union Plus? If we do not hear from you, we will remove your e-mail from our list.

    Yes, I would like to continue to receive e-mails from Union Plus -- http://www.unionvoice.org/ct/hdLZ1v

    No, please remove me from the Union Plus e-mail list -- http://www.unionvoice.org/up/remove-domain-direct.tcl?ctx=center&nkey=wnwg

Take a few minutes this week to think about how a reactivation campaign could enhance your e-mail marketing efforts. In my next column, we’ll take a look at the second and third phases of my standard reactivation strategy and provide you the information you need to undertake your own reengagement campaign.

Until next time,


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Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is one of the World's Top 50 Email Marketing Influencers (Vocus, 2014). She has more than 20 years of experience in the email and online marketing and product development world. Jeanne's direct-response approach to email strategy, tactics, and creative direction helps organizations make their email marketing initiatives more effective and more profitable. Clients include: ConsumerReports.org, FDANews, Hasbro, PRWeb, Scholastic, Verizon, and WeightWatchers. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.

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