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Subscriber lists are valuable tools for marketers. Built up over many years they consist of contacts and customers who have opted in to receive communications, having expressed an interest in the brand or having previously made a purchase.
These contacts may be existing or lapsed customers and inevitably there would have been some investment involved in gathering them (through some marketing channel or other). Because of this it’s disappointing for marketers when contacts drop off the radar and become unengaged.
Some brands continue to send communications to unengaged subscribers – thinking ‘what’s the harm?’ – but there are some serious risks in doing so.
The risks of continuing to communicate to inactive subscribers
When attempting to deliver marketing messages to disengaged subscribers, email service providers (ESPs) use behaviour rules (based on engagement with previous emails from the sender or with an existing message delivered across the ISP network) to help define the sender’s reputation.
The sender’s reputation is one of the main factors that determine whether or not an email is delivered to an inbox or a spam folder – or is blocked entirely. Clearly a low engagement rate is something marketers should avoid as it may impact the effectiveness and delivery of future campaigns.
In addition, ISPs will frequently convert old and unused email addresses into spam-traps. Emailing a spam-trap will seriously harm your sender reputation as future messages have a very high chance of being completely blocked for a period of time.
To this end marketers are left with the difficult decision – do they remove all inactive subscribers to preserve sender reputation? Some of those inactive subscribers were valuable and engaging customers in the past, and the brand had invested in creating those relationships.
The critical thing is to put those customers first – they don’t want to be receiving endless emails which they never engage with. Continuing to send communications is adding nothing – if anything it’s only annoying them and as a result damaging the relationship.
What’s needed is a reactivation campaign to give those customers a route back which appeals to them, protects sender reputation and removes inactive subscribers who are never going to re-engage.
Different brands and industries will define inactive subscribers in different ways and the approach taken should depend on the nature of the business and each brand’s classification of ‘inactive’. For instance, an online newspaper will expect a higher level of interaction than a furniture brand.
It is important for marketers to have an honest idea of their subscriber activity expectations. Whether it is weekly, once a month or once a year, every brand needs to set those numbers before deciding what counts as inactive.
How to design and build a reactivation programme
A sensible approach to launching a programme may be to send three consecutive campaigns. If a subscriber engages – either by opting out or opening/clicking – the appropriate action should be taken. In this instance, if the subscriber wishes to opt-out, they should not be emailed again unless they opt back in. If the subscriber opens or clicks, they may be considered as re-engaged and should be treated as all other active subscribers. Of course, if they engage they should not receive the second or third messages.
1. Catch attention and acknowledge
The first part of the programme will need to catch the customer’s attention in order to start a conversation. This is achieved by using a punchy subject line. This email is the brand’s biggest chance of showing worth to the customer: show what you know and tell them what you’ll change.
2. Show value
The second step of the conversation should be about how the brand has changed and improved – thereby reaffirming why the subscriber engaged with them in the first place and how the brand has developed. Brands should show the value of being signed-up to their email communications.
3. Provide a hook
The last part of the programme may incentivise the subscriber with a great deal or irresistible offer. Should brands wish to offer a free service or product offer, it is important that this hook has been proven to work in other campaigns.
Some brands use incentives in the first stage and turn it into an even bigger offer in the third stage.
Best practice for reactivation campaigns
Clear opt-in/opt out – The most important aspect of a re-engagement programme is making it easy for subscribers to opt back in or opt-out in the last stage. Subscribers who do not click either should be removed if no engagement was seen throughout the programme.
Mobile optimisation – It is critical to ensure that re-activation programmes are mobile optimised.
Be honest and straight forward – this isn’t about deceiving or tricking people. Asking inactive subscribers why they are no longer interested is sensible.
Use emotive and creative subject lines – Subject lines should be engaging and deliver an emotional response. Critically, reactivation subject lines should be significantly different from subject lines they have received in the past.
Preference centres and surveys – Preference centres and surveys are recommended to gain more insight and help craft more compelling content for the re-engagement programme. They may help brands improve their relationship with dis-engaged customers.
What do reactivation programmes mean for wider strategy?
Reactivation strategies should be created in line with the wider communications and email strategy. A brand that has a lot of inactive subscribers needs to look at the messages it is sending out and the quality of its data.
If what is being sent is not relevant to the audience or if that data is old, fragmentary or inaccurate then a reactivation programme is only papering over the cracks. The full solution would consist of ensuring first party data is strong and robust enough to provide a clear view of subscribers.
In addition, running tests around time of day, day of week, subject lines, creative, content, survey/no survey, is best practice. Likewise, maintaining healthy subscriber lists is important and brands must do what they can to please their subscribers so they remain engaged.
Reactivation programmes are an excellent way of streamlining a subscriber list, re-engaging with inactive customers who may have got into the habit of not interacting and protecting sender reputation.
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