How to Deal with Inactive Subscribers: Suppress, Send, or . . .
Solving the riddle of inactive subscribers seems to be mission critical for the email marketers we talk to or hear from every day.
Return Path weighed in on how suppression of inactives improves email deliverability, and Dela Quist explained how these best practices may cost email marketers significant revenue . Every conference we attend has a packed house in any session with “inactive” in the title.
Still, the questions remain for email marketers. What do we do with inactive subscribers? Do we give up on non-openers? In short, suppress or send?
The heart of the problem is that it’s difficult to risk deliverability issues from low engagement and to risk not sending to a large segment of your list. Both can have a big impact on revenue.
As a stand-alone email ad exchange, we sympathize. We constantly work to keep engagement rates high by targeting email advertising to the right subscribers so that we maintain high inbox placement rates.
A prospective client of ours was recently grappling with their inactive segment and asked what we thought. We thought that while it’s important to follow deliverability best practices, some inactives want to be engaged, either by your brand or through email advertising. You just have to approach them the right way.
We use behavioral cues to understand the person behind the inbox. So, we started by breaking out the subscriber experience and identifying the ideal outcome and how we could get there.
Subscriber Experience 1: “What email?”
If specific segments of your list are inactive, you could have a deliverability issue. Nothing shuts down open and click rates like not showing up in the inbox.
Ideal outcome: Re-engage the subscriber (and consider asking them to add your email address to their safe senders list). To get there, you need to get your message delivered and re-introduce yourself to them.
Subscriber Experience 2: “I’m underwhelmed or it’s just not the right time.”
It may not be what you want to hear, but sometimes subscribers just aren’t that interested in what you’re doing. They may feel that your emails have become less relevant or they don’t need your product right now.
Ideal outcome: This is the perfect target to re-engage. The key here is relevance: what do these subscribers want? If they haven’t opened or clicked in some time, test different types of content and offers to learn more about them. Treat them as “prospects”, not customers. Build a “we want you back” PRM program. (We can help you!) The goal is to decide if you should move them into the Experience 1 or 3 categories.
Subscriber Experience 3: “I don’t want this.”
It’s difficult to imagine that someone who doesn’t want your emails wouldn’t just unsubscribe, given that I’m sure you make it easy to unsubscribe.
An ExactTarget survey found that 67% of subscribers do typically click “unsubscribe” when they no longer want to receive a company’s email. Another 8% break an email marketer’s heart and mark the email as spam.
The other 17% just delete the emails, 6% ignore the emails, and 2% set up a filter to get rid of them. So potentially a full 25% of the people who don’t want to receive your emails give you no feedback at all. They just disengage.
Ideal outcome: Again, we would want to re-engage the subscribers who are open to it. However, the majority have decided that they don’t want to receive your company’s emails: their needs may have changed or they may be finding your products less relevant to their life. For third-party permissioned emails, the best outcome might be to re-activate and monetize this segment of your email list by sending email advertising to them.
Since we can’t know which of those groups each record falls into until we see how they behave, we developed a re-engagement campaign for our prospective client that would take into account how each of those subscriber types might respond:
- Subscriber Experience 1: We moved the inactive list into a special section of our database so that we could handle deliverability. As an added benefit, our client could optimize their main email marketing to generate better ROI on their most active segment while we worked to re-engage the rest.
- Subscriber Experience 2 & 3: We used our platform to send a series of offers to the inactive list in small batches, automatically optimizing based on the best response by email.
At the end of our campaign, the client will return the email records that re-activated to their master list, with additional information about the types of offers that subscribers opened or clicked. ividence will monetize the remaining subscribers by sending email advertising that’s targeted to them based on their behavior.
This way, our client removes a chunk of their list that isn’t engaged with their brand, but can still drive revenue from their list. The perfect compromise to the question of: Suppress or send?
Have you tried a re-engagement program? How did you handle subscribers who didn’t re-activate?
Takeaway: Keeping on top of your inactive subscribers can help improve your deliverability and increase your revenue. It’s important to think about subscribers’ experience to create a re-engagement campaign that works.