We Want You Back: Reactivation Campaign

Chances are you have addresses on your email list that haven’t opened or clicked on one of your email messages in a long time – months or even years. If you haven’t addressed this issue, you should, for a number of reasons:

  • Continuing to send to these non-responsive addresses increases your risk of having deliverability issues.
    • Some ISPs turn abandoned email accounts into spam traps and keep track of organizations that continue to send to these addresses.
  • Continuing to send isn’t money well-spent.
    • Any email address that hasn’t opened or clicked in months or years is unlikely to start now.
  • By continuing to send, you are depressing your own metrics.
    • Removing these non-responsive addresses won’t increase the number of people that open and click, but it will decrease your total send quantity, which will increase your open and click metrics.
    • This actually makes your metrics a better reflection of how your email efforts are doing.

Before you remove non-responsive addresses, it makes sense to undertake a reactivation campaign to see if you can revive them. I’ve done a number of these for my clients over the years and have had success getting people to reengage. When I receive “we want you back” messages in my inbox, I always save them, and I’m often surprised at how they are missing some of the simplest elements for success.

I’m a fan of The Washington Post, but not of this reactivation effort I recently received from the newspaper. Here’s some constructive criticism, to help you improve your own reactivation campaigns.


The from line was “The Washington Post”; the subject line was “Renew Your Free Newsletter Subscriptions.”

First, The Post is missing the most critical ingredient of a successful reactivation campaign – an explanation of why I should want to read its email messages again, aka the benefits of having an email relationship with the newspaper.

The Post talks about the news, analysis, and information it provides me – these are features, not benefits. And they certainly aren’t advantages, which would go one step beyond benefits to talk about why The Washington Post is the best source for the information it is providing.

I also feel like I’m getting some mixed messages from the copy here:

  • “Thank you for being a loyal reader…”
    • You’re welcome.
  • “In the past, you subscribed…”
    • So I used to subscribe but I don’t anymore?
  • “From time to time…”
    • So this is no big deal.
  • “Confirm their interest in receiving communications from us”
    • Third person – what does this have to do with me? I’m a loyal reader, right? Doesn’t that show my interest?
  • “We urge you to re-subscribe now”
    • So I’m a loyal reader and you want to confirm my interest but I need to re-subscribe? Am I currently a reader/subscriber or not?
  • “P.S. If you take no action you will no longer receive…”
    • This is what really throws me. It comes across like a threat or maybe even a punishment.
    • It’s like I’m a child who has neglected to eat her vegetables for a week and my parents vow I’ll receive no vegetables in the future unless I confirm my interest in them. Shrug; who cares? Especially since there was no talk about the benefits and advantages of vegetables – I mean news and analysis from The Washington Post.

Side note: don’t even get me started on the text links – “clicking here” and “Click here to re-subscribe now.” We needed to tell people to “click here” back in the mid-1990s when the World Wide Web was new. People weren’t familiar with the concept of hyperlinks back then. But now, more than 15 years later, there are so many better ways to phrase your calls to action.

One more thought. Before I undertake a reactivation campaign, I always try to figure out why people have become disinterested in the email and what could be done to address this. The idea that there are new benefits to an email relationship or that things have changed since the reader disengaged can be very powerful. But it doesn’t look like The Post investigated that or made any changes before it sent out this campaign.

Every organization struggles to keep email subscribers engaged. And I do hope that this campaign was successful for The Washington Post. The truth is that I often read its email messages on my BlackBerry – and I check the mobile site whenever I have a few minutes to kill.

I just checked and it’s been a year since I received this email. And The Washington Post afternoon update just landed in my inbox – even through I’m pretty sure I didn’t respond to the reactivation request. Hmm…

Until next time,


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