Email Re-engagement: Whom to Charm and How

Email Re-engagement: Whom to Charm and How

28th May 2018

When you’re watching your email marketing engagement drop, what to do? Yes, it’s entirely possible that some of your audience have dumped you. But without a Dear John letter, break-up text, not even an unsubscribe… just disengagement. Fewer opens, fewer clicks, resulting in awkward silence.

Well, it’s awkward for you as a marketer, anyway. Likely, the part of your email list that lost interest isn’t losing sleep over this. But we are left wondering if the proverbial phone will ring. It won’t, unless you re-engage smartly.

Let’s explore the possible root causes for the disinterest, and what to do about each one.

Why Bother Re-engaging your email list?

If you’ve noticed that your open rates and click-through rates are declining, first thing you might think of is start culling inactive subscribers from your email list. For protection of your pristine deliverability. And it works, all of a sudden your open and click percentages are up! But your absolute numbers are down. Pundits that haven’t thought it through will tell you to be scared of in active part of your list. If you don’t have any deliverability problems at the moment – don’t get too hasty.

Email re-engagement campaign stats

Considering the rule of the thumb that it costs five times as much to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, how would that be for your email list? What was the real Cost of Acquisition for that contact? Suddenly, hooking up again with that disengaged contact is looking pretty good right now.

If you were doing it right, customer retention starts at the beginning of your funnel. Attract the right subscribers and you know it will be worthwhile to keep in touch. At some point, this person was into you, making them interesting at the very least. And that makes them much easier to re-engage.

It is bad advice to overdo it and start to “wine and dine” every single person on your list. We must first segment your email list for better engagement, and an RFM analysis of your email list is a great start. Before we launch into talking about email re-engagement or win-back campaigns, I propose add the reasons of the inactivity to the analysis.

Why did this subscriber become inactive? Based on the reason, we can then formulate the strategy to entice them back.

Sometimes a very simple nudge can help as with this Nuzzle example.

Let’s explore some of the reasons for becoming inactive.

#1. Crappy Content

– Do all of your emails come over as pushy sales-ey push messages? Take a look at the mix between content and conversion driven mails. Are your emails serving only you, not the ones receiving them? Sometimes it is not the content per se, but the tone-of-voice. Especially B2B copy can easily turn into Boring-2-Boring totally falling flat, in general email copywriting can use some emotion.

A subscriber took one look at your last self-centred email and thought, “How is this useful to me?” or “Why are you even sending me this?”

Ensure that you understand your subscribers’s needs, concerns and challenges, and that your email marketing content addresses those. I love a good option for conversion, or at least steps towards conversion. Put stay away from hammering the hard sales pitch and you’ll end up with a much more responsive list instead.

#2. Irregular Messaging

– How many emails have you sent this person? Do they feel stalked? Did you send five emails in the first weeks, and then nothing for four months because… well no good reason actually? (I admit, I am totally no stranger to not sending frequently enough and having to re-engage with my email list myself)

When you email on a regular schedule – especially for high-touch industries, recipients become accustomed to seeing your name in their inboxes. Familiarity breeds response, maybe even excitement, which is good for you and your open rates.

Talking about high touch… In an onboarding campaign or a “30-day challenge” type of campaign, one or two days of inactivity makes for correctional re-engagement. So the time that you select before re-engagement is

#3. The lead is Just Not That Into You

– And never was. It’s entirely possible that you, being the genius marketer that you are, devised a well-marketed, sexy opt-in to expand your email subscription list. Perhaps you ran a contest, gave away a trendy freebie or used any number of other tactics for capturing leads. Well, it worked, but now you’re wrestling with subscribers who were never truly interested in your product in the first place but only the incentive. He got the milk for free, and now you’re asking him to take the cow on a date. That means that these subscribers are not qualified leads.

#4. You Click-baited Your Way In

– You know you’re guilty. Most of us are, at one point or another. Clickbait-ish subject lines are a tempting way to increase open rates, but consider the drawbacks. When your potential lead stops trusting your brand, it’s over. So there are two ways to do it: positive click-bait (aka fostering curiosity, and then delivering on it) and negative click-bait (writing checks your email can’t cash).

#5 It is not us, it’s you

There can be a lot of other reasons that lead to disengagement. It pays to know the turn-ons and turn-offs for engagement. This might not be your messaging per se, but changed situation, perception, context, lost motivation of your subscriber. And some of these are fixable through communication or adjusted product offering. Going into the reasons takes true customer research – but a bit of brainstorming might get you on your way.

Think of your email subscription as a actual paid subscription(!) Eg a Netflix subscription, your insurance, or one of these subscription boxes. What happens when you “Cancel your subscription”? Here is an example from Barkbox, taking the Chilled-Out approach. Use cute-vertising to make it very enjoyable / fun email. What they do is double layered:

1. Acknowledge the change in the relation.
2. Offer an option to re-engage.

How Turned Off Are They?

In addition to determining the root cause of the disengagement, it’s a worthwhile exercise to figure out just how disengaged your subscribers are. Have they walked away just from your email marketing campaigns or from other touchpoints as well? Segment your disengaged subscribers into groups based on which channels they’ve disengaged from.

#1. Touches of Heat

This subscriber, although not reading your emails, has expressed interest recently. Perhaps she visited your website or liked one of your Facebook posts. She will be relatively easy to reengage.

#2. Luke Warm

This subscriber isn’t opening your emails, isn’t visiting your website and doesn’t follow your brand on Twitter, but he did make a rather significant purchase last year, sending a signal that he had serious interest at some point. He’s going to be challenging to reengage, but not impossible.

#3. Frosting Over

They see that you’re sending them regular communication. They don’t care. They’re entirely uninterested. The only engagement you’ve ever seen is the initial email subscription, but it stopped there. You may never be able to foster email re-engagement, because this subscriber likely wasn’t interested in the first place.

How to Entice Them Back

Different subscribers require different email re-engagement strategies.

For those who have bailed completely on your emails but are still engaging with your brand on social channels, perhaps it’s simply your emails that are the problem.

Examine the quality of the emails you’re sending, and ensure you’re refraining from common email marketing mistakes. If you up your email game, they could return. But even in the case of a value-makeover, start with a retention message.

I wouldn’t approach it as a one-time campaign, better to make it into a recurring campaign that is triggered on inactivity – as timing is everything in marketing automation.

Your lukewarm contacts are still possible to reengage, but you’re going to have to provide some fireworks in terms of motivation. First, let him know you’ve noticed. Then, let him know you care.

You can achieve both of these goals by reaching out directly with a reactivation email (series). You probably have seen the occasional “We Miss You”, “We Want You Back,” or “Is it something we said” emails. They don’t always work. Encourage your subscribers to reengage by offering her something of value, like a discount on a product you know he’s interested in. It’s easy to segment your audience so that you have an entire group of lukewarm contacts for whom you can establish an offer, and a tailored landing page.

Those who are frosting over, they may be a lost cause, which makes them excellent candidates for list hygiene and deletion.

Think Carefully about Email Re-engagement before Kicking your Subscribers to the Curb

Re engagement marketing is not that different from dating. It’s about determining whether or not you’re the right match for somebody based on both sides’ ultimate goals, preferences and motivations.

When you notice that somebody isn’t that into you, examine their motivation behind stepping back, and determine what exactly they’re stepping back from. Once you have those two pieces of information, you can decide intelligently not only whether or not to pursue them, but also how to go about that email re-engagement.


Written By
Jordie van Rijn has more than 13 years of hands-on experience as an independent email marketing consultant. Next to helping companies improve their email marketing results he gives email marketing training and is a writer and speaker in the field of online marketing.
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