Inactivity is inevitable. It's kind of like email marketing's version of the Laws of Motion. What goes up must come down. While the desired goal is to have as few inactive subscribers as possible, anywhere from 20 to 70 percent of your list could be inactive, meaning a substantial portion of your file isn't interacting - or may have never interacted - with your messaging. So what's an earth-bound email marketer to do?
Having an effective strategy to engage with your non-responders is essential. The way you treat inactives has a direct impact on your program's performance. Most obvious is the fact that a higher percentage of inactives depresses your response rates. What many email marketers neglect to consider, however, is how inactivity can negatively affect inbox placement. A number of the major ISPs - Microsoft, Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL - incorporate engagement metrics into their filtering decisions. The more email you send to subscribers who choose not to interact, the greater the likelihood that your messages will be bulked into the spam folder and eventually blocked.
While focusing on inactives is often a task at the bottom of an email marketer's long to-do list, effectively winning back these lapsed subscribers can have an immediate impact on performance. A lot has been written about what you should do when creating your inactive strategy, so instead I'll focus on three things that you shouldn't do:
The more specific the profile, the easier it is to target your inactive subscribers with a relevant offer or piece of content that will inspire them to take an action.
It is important for these brands to weigh the value of continuing to mail an inactive subscriber/user in the hopes that she will reengage against the detrimental impact this practice has on their ability to continue to reach the inboxes of active subscribers/users who want to engage. This is one of many reasons why having a preference center is crucial, so that subscribers can choose how frequently they want to receive certain message types, or whether or not they would prefer to roll multiple instances of the same message type into a "digest" version. Likewise, reducing frequency is not enough. After a period of continued inactivity, marketers should put business rules in place to stop mailing these non-responders entirely.
This goes back to my first "don't" - what might resonate with a new subscriber who is an active website browser (but hasn't made a purchase) may fall flat with a subscriber who has been on the file for over a year (but made one purchase three months ago). Additionally, testing allows you to try out a variety of offers and incentives to see which is most successful. This can include everything from a discount or coupon; advanced access to new items; a preview of your latest catalogue; informative content for downloading; a satisfaction survey; or a reminder to update subscriber preferences.
Newton certainly wasn't thinking of email when he created the Laws of Motion, but marketers would be wise to pay attention to subscribers who are experiencing inertia. Inactivity is a clear indicator that something isn't working with your program, but also an opportunity to revitalize a non-responsive subscriber's relationship with your brand. Just make sure you're not the one who remains inactive.
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As vice president of professional services at email intelligence company Return Path, Margaret Farmakis oversees teams of specialists helping global brands improve the deliverability, response, revenue, and ROI of their email marketing programs. Prior to her six years at Return Path, Margaret spent 10 years producing and managing multi-channel integrated direct marketing programs for Fortune 100 companies, focusing on the financial services and technology sectors.
March 19, 2014