Dealing with Inactives on Your Email List by Karen Talavera @SyncMarketing

Dealing with In-actives on Your Email List

Dealing with Inactives on Your Email List

On any email list, there will be a percentage of subscribers who signed up and never again showed signs of life.  They may have opted-into a specific offer, and once they obtained the coupon, free content, or other benefit you promised, they disengaged.

Or, they joined your list while in the market for your product or service but soon afterward their needs were met and they never bothered to unsubscribe.

In email lingo we call these list members “in-actives”.  The reality is that unless an inactive subscriber specifically tells you why he or she hasn’t responded, you really never know why for sure.  Is it that the person is a) not the right fit for your product/service? b) was once a fit but isn’t anymore? c) is no longer interested but hasn’t unsubscribed because they’re “hanging in there” hoping for improved relevance?  d) became overwhelmed and disengaged with email as a communication channel? e) is angry and upset due to a bad customer experience? Any or all of these reasons could be to blame.

You’ll likely never really know on an individual basis, but it’s safe to assume that at least some inactive subscribers would like to re-engage, they just need a good reason for doing so and possibly, would like to do so in a channel other than email.  Because of that, here’s my recommended course of action for dealing with in-actives:

Conduct a Re-Activation Email Campaign
Identify in-actives on your list according to agreed-upon criteria (never purchased? No clicks in 12 weeks? Zero opens in 6 months?) and segment them for a reactivation email campaign containing a special incentive if they re-opt-into your list, confirm permission, and/or provide expanded information.

Connect in Social Media
New (and dare I say it, way cool) low cost applications like Flowtown make it possible for you to identify which social media networks your email list members belong to on a person-by-person basis, then reach out to them to friend, link or follow on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Flickr, Twitter and more.  If you can get an active connection going in a social media environment, chances are the next time your email message arrives in the inbox, that list member will pay it more attention.

Attempt Offline Connections
If establishing contact online doesn’t work, try connecting through direct mail or by telephone in order to re-confirm and refresh email list sign-up.  Outreach through offline channels adds variety to your marketing mix, and stands out to those who might be ignoring their inboxes, or who simply might have changed email addresses and need to provide you with the newest, most relevant one.

Reduce Volume of Email Messages Sent or Suppress Entirely
Less active email list members warrant less frequent communication.  Suppress in-actives from all but your most general email campaigns (like your newsletter or quarterly updates) or suppress them entirely.  You don’t need to wipe them off your list, simple don’t email them as much, or at all unless and until they show an increase in responsiveness.  Suppressing in-actives you have failed to re-engage via reactivation campaigns will boost your email campaign performance metrics considerably.  Remember, large list size is meaningless if a sizable percentage of list members aren’t engaged.

Email list management and maintenance should be a living process, never an afterthought.  By monitoring your subscriber engagement you’ll undoubtedly identify inactive segments and be able to deploy the strategies described here.  On the flip side, you’ll also identify your most engaged members, so don’t ignore them!  They deserve segmentation for special – albeit different – treatment too because you’ll want to do all you can to remain in their inner circle long term.

Takeaway: Perhaps the most valuable outcome of good subscriber engagement practices is adopting a “quality over quantity” mindset.  Numbers are important, sure, but only to a point.  Small, highly targeted lists with highly engaged and loyal list members outperform sheer volume almost every time.

Meet the author:

Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is an internationally recognized speaker, consultant, professional educator and thought-leader in email marketing. She has been praised as “a pioneer in bringing the power of email marketing to the forefront” and “diligent in staying on top of her field, mastering email marketing not just as a specific practice but also in conjunction with social media and other digital channels”. Karen’s enlightened direct response focus delivers results for clients ranging from ServiceMaster, Texas Instruments, Applied Materials, and the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau to associations and solo-preneurs. Karen provides custom email and social media marketing training, workshops, coaching and consulting/advisory services. For a complimentary consult to see how she can best help you, call 561-967-9665 or visit http://www.synchronicitymarketing.com

Connect with: Karen Talavera

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  • Noah Fournier
    October 27, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    This was a great article Karen. I couldn’t agree more with all of your recommendations. There are two others suggestions I typically make to people dealing with inactives. One, try sending a survey to these inactives asking how the email program can better meet their needs. Questions like “Why did you subscribe?” and “What kind of content do you want to receive?” can be asked. Two, it might be worth trying different subject lines to see if that makes any kind of a difference. Like you, I favor an “all of the above” approach before completely swearing off an inactive subscriber.

  • Noah Fournier
    October 27, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    This was a great article Karen. I couldn’t agree more with all of your recommendations. There are two others suggestions I typically make to people dealing with inactives. One, try sending a survey to these inactives asking how the email program can better meet their needs. Questions like “Why did you subscribe?” and “What kind of content do you want to receive?” can be asked. Two, it might be worth trying different subject lines to see if that makes any kind of a difference. Like you, I favor an “all of the above” approach before completely swearing off an inactive subscriber.

  • Bill Kaplan
    October 27, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Great topic and overview, Karen!

    Inactive customers might just be the most misunderstood and neglected segment of your customer database. Given that most inactive customers are the result of improper email address registration practices or annual email address churn rates of ~30% per year, it’s not safe to assume that these customers aren’t interested in a relationship anymore. It’s simply that you’ve been leaving messages at email boxes people no longer read.

    For some additional ideas on when to drop inactives from your file and how best to re-engage them, check out the following article, which features additional industry experts, including Jeanniey Mullen (Global EVP of Zinio), Loren McDonald (VP of Silverpop), and Chip House (VP of ExactTarget): http://biz.freshaddress.com/August2010_Partner_Insights.aspx

  • Bill Kaplan
    October 27, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Great topic and overview, Karen!

    Inactive customers might just be the most misunderstood and neglected segment of your customer database. Given that most inactive customers are the result of improper email address registration practices or annual email address churn rates of ~30% per year, it’s not safe to assume that these customers aren’t interested in a relationship anymore. It’s simply that you’ve been leaving messages at email boxes people no longer read.

    For some additional ideas on when to drop inactives from your file and how best to re-engage them, check out the following article, which features additional industry experts, including Jeanniey Mullen (Global EVP of Zinio), Loren McDonald (VP of Silverpop), and Chip House (VP of ExactTarget): http://biz.freshaddress.com/August2010_Partner_Insights.aspx

  • AndyT (aka CaptainInbox)
    January 20, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I’d add a little caveat: if you haven’t emailed them for over a year don’t throw them in with the other in-actives.
    By inactive, it specifically means people you have been emailing regularly but have not engaged with the email.

    Trying to wake up emails that you have not emailed to for over 12 months, is very dangerous to your avoidance of block-lists / black-lists and general poor deliverability, especially with consumer data. This is due to old addresses getting closed hard bouncing for a while and then getting turned into spam traps.
    If an address is eventually going to be a spam trap, your monthly sending would have caught the hard bounce and suppressed it before it became a trap. If you have not emailed it for 12 months, possibly even 6, you may have missed the hard bounce and be mailing into a trap.

  • AndyT (aka CaptainInbox)
    January 20, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I’d add a little caveat: if you haven’t emailed them for over a year don’t throw them in with the other in-actives.
    By inactive, it specifically means people you have been emailing regularly but have not engaged with the email.

    Trying to wake up emails that you have not emailed to for over 12 months, is very dangerous to your avoidance of block-lists / black-lists and general poor deliverability, especially with consumer data. This is due to old addresses getting closed hard bouncing for a while and then getting turned into spam traps.
    If an address is eventually going to be a spam trap, your monthly sending would have caught the hard bounce and suppressed it before it became a trap. If you have not emailed it for 12 months, possibly even 6, you may have missed the hard bounce and be mailing into a trap.

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