Reponses Rates - Will They Help Us Decide Email Value?

Should response rates be the final arbiter for removing someone from the file?  This has been a "best practice" for years. Especially so, since ISPS and other receivers now say that engagement is so important in the email channel.

However if I know that my subscriber is active with my brand, but not active with my email file, should I keep emailing them?  Will I risk a bad sender reputation?

The answer seems to be, Yes and Yes. This is the consensus from this morning’s Email Insider Summit panel led by Jack Hogan, CTO and co-founder of LifeScript. I agree with that, actually. If you are going to do this well, it takes care for your subscribers above all (including internal interests) and careful, cross channel data management.  I would hope that all legitimate and caring email marketers are doing this anyway.

Some things to consider:

- Response is still better. Try to encourage and enable response to your email program so you know for sure the subscriber is engaged.  Do subject lines encourage someone to read on? Is the HTML formatting done in a way that encourages someone to download images (and register an open), or click through to a landing page or microsite?

- If we send ONLY messages that don't encourage response, will the negative value of the inactive portion of our file "takeover" the positive value of the active portion of our file?  Negative value is measured by sender reputation risk, sending costs, subscriber fatigue and brand value degradation. How can we measure this effectively for our program? Some factors might be recency of purchase, influence in other channel, engagement with more than one channel overall (e.g.: mobile and retail).

- If you have email subscribers who are inactive, send them messages at a different cadence. Don't over mail to folks who don't value or appreciate this channel, even if they appreciate and value your brand.

- What are some meaningful measures for your program to balance the value of an active email subscriber with the potential negative of sending email to an inactive email subscriber who is active in other channels. Is there no risk, if the inactive email subscriber is just as active as always in other channels? Is this simply an attribution game - where the day the email offer goes out there are many purchases direct from the website by people who are on the email file? This latter one feels like mushy ROI to me. But we use mushy ROI metrics all the time in direct marketing - and especially in social marketing. So maybe you and your organization are comfortable with it.

- Test and get to know your own subscribers so that you can set up guardrails that make sense for your particular program around frequency, removing inactive, segmentation and key relevancy factors.

 The panel got the room excited about this topic.  Some of the comments include:

  • Chris Marriott of Strongmail offers that some of this dilemma is just driven by "laziness." That email marketers are obsessed by attribution.
  • Panelist Dela Quist says that as long as you don't do something stupid or over mail them, you should keep people on your list forever.
  • Moderator Jack Hogan notes that the ISPs and receivers are not interested in marketing messages. So our interest in staying connected doesn't add any points to our sender reputation scores if there is no activity with email messages.
  • Panelist Nicole Delma of RCRD LBL says she's long toyed with the idea of an ISP that is dedicated to marketing messages.  Let's set up a different channel that recognizes the unique way that subscribers engage with marketing messages.

So should you ever remove subscribers from your file? Ms. Delma quoted some stats from CondeNast where response rates quadrupled when they removed inactives. (Of course, increasing the rate is not the same as increasing revenue. However, I have seen more focus on segmentation and offer relevancy improve response rates by a factors as high as five.)

Another panelist, the estimable Tom Sather from inbox deliverability firm Return Path, noted that continuing to mail inactive subscribers will cause deliverability and sender reputation issues, however, it is less likely to have a large impact if the marketer is respecting subscriber choices and sending less frequently. He noted that correcting deliverability issues can take weeks or months to correct. He advises that marketers must move beyond opens and clicks, as ISPs have also moved beyond those to include things like session length and overall activity in the email account.

Bottom line: I'm a firm believer that if someone is telling you that your email program has no value to them (which is what they are telling you if they never respond, even if they are active in other channels), then there is no reason to email them.  However, there are lots of steps you can go through before you have to make that hard choice - try to improve relevancy, try to win back early and often, try to nurture and try to segment and send different types of messages.

Thanks to Jack and the excellent panel for a lively discussion! Love to hear the thoughts of MediaPost readers, too.

Tags: email
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