Missing Customers Aren’t Always Lost: Winback Strategies for the MIA

Content Takeover Email MarketingIt can be difficult to tempt email list subscribers who lose interest in a brand. Sometimes, even the savviest email marketers have to ask themselves if they should keep trying or cut and run. While winback strategies vary from brand to brand, it’s always important to make customers who have gone AWOL understand how sorely they’re missed.

When it comes to email lists, bigger isn’t always better, says Shana Kelly, digital marketing director for men’s fashion retail site Black Lapel.

“A lot of marketers are hesitant to take people off their lists because they look at the sheer volume rather than what those people are actually doing for them. It’s important to focus on cleaning out lists after attempting to get those customers to re-engage, so that when you do have to cut them you’re not wondering if you did enough to try to win them back,” Kelly says.

In order to win back inactive customers, Kelly’s strategy isn’t overloading them with markdowns. Black Lapel prefers to send unique, first-look content to let customers see what they’ve missed.

“Black Lapel doesn’t do promotions. Promotions work depending on your business, but the more important thing is to re-educate customers and get them to become quality customers again, not have another one-off purchase and lapse again shortly after,” notes Kelly. 

As for sends, Kelly believes less is more when it comes to lapsed engagement. Recently the brand tried reducing its number of re-engagement sends dramatically, and surprisingly, less sends upped engagement.

“Something wasn’t working because customers weren’t responding, so we did a test where we took half the audience and did a once-a-week email. For the other audience we did a normal cadence, which was about one every two days. We got about 25 percent higher returns from the customers that were considered lost and only getting one email a week. The engagement was higher; the sales were higher,” Kelly explains. 

Office Depot’s winback strategy is a little different from that of Black Lapel. The company does offer promotions to customers who have dropped off the map, but it tiers and segments customers based on their last engagement. The company segments its list into two groups: customers who haven’t opened an email in 12 months and more short-term inactive customers. Before sending offers, the company cleans its list of invalid emails and spam traps, then Office Depot runs a “We Miss You” campaign through a third party with a different IP address.

“We send a series of about three emails that give a richer offer than we normally send out,” says Anjie Moin, director of e-commerce and digital marketing for Office Depot. “We test out different subject lines, but basically it’s a ‘We miss you’ campaign. We’ve seen success in that. Obviously the open rates are a lot lower than our normal open rates because this is a dormant list, but we still managed to get an average of 7 percent.”

After Office Depot sends offers to the 12-month group, it targets the short-term group. “If a customer hasn’t opened an email in the last 60 days, we set up a quick winback series rather than just continually sending promotional campaigns,” Moin says. “It’s not as rich an offer as the 12-month re-engagement, but still richer than our current promotion.”

However, the short term winback has its limits to avoid customers who try to game coupon offers. “We don’t want to put people into this short-term winback program continually,” Moin says. “If they’ve already been through it once in the last six months we won’t do it more than twice in a year just to make sure people aren’t just falling into for the richer coupons.”

So what should marketers do if winback campaigns fail to draw users? Kelly says it’s best to just part ways. “The last touch of that sequence is giving them a very noticeable option to opt out because we don’t want to be stuck with people we don’t know what to do with.” But Moin would rather a gentler goodbye.

While she does stop emailing if the 12 month “We Miss You” campaign doesn’t work, she never says never. “I’d rather stop emailing them and give them an opportunity to come back later and get engaged in the program,” Moin says. “They can always sign up again or click on display banners and I can see that they’re actually engaging with us. That’s another opportunity for me to be able to go back and email them.”

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