Much has been made recently about what to do with your email non-responders. These are subscribers who continue to receive emails, but have not opened, clicked or otherwise responded in a long time (if ever). For many marketers, this is a significant portion of their lists, and what they usually do is either to keep mailing on a reduced schedule, or stop mailing entirely after a time. But it's an error to frame this dilemma purely in the context of a mailing schedule. Before deciding on a course of action, marketers need to find out why subscribers are no longer responsive.
Non-responsiveness has many factors, but let's start with some level-setting. First, it may not be as bad as you think. You may have responders who remembered seeing the email in their inbox and later went to your site or store. Second, your best customers are likely to go straight into the purchase stream, given their higher level of affinity and engagement, without the need for an email. Third, there may be many reasons why someone is no longer opening your emails, ranging from an image-blocking issue to a perceived lack of value on the part of the recipient.
With these points in mind, I would like to offer a few things to consider when re-engaging your email non-responders.
Focus on value. It's critical to understand the value subscribers attach to your email program. Your goal is to make sure that your program - primarily its content -- meets or exceeds subscribers' expectations.
Simply trending open and click rates won't reveal their attitudes. A key first step is to survey your subscribers regularly. Ask them questions related to why they subscribed in the first place, and how the program matches those expectations. Clearly it will be harder to talk to the non-responders, which is why you'll need to consider reaching out to them via other channels or targeting your most responsive to find trends that can support a conclusion. If you find a value disconnect with your subscribers, it's time for a change in the program. Remember that people opt in for different reasons and may want different content. Consider how you message disparate groups, such as purchasers versus sweepstakes entrants. Be sure to examine non-response rates and messaging among different acquisition sources, as well.
Leverage other channels. Trying to get email non-responders to become responsive only by emailing them is an exercise in futility. This is why you must integrate your efforts with other channels. Can you deploy targeted messaging on your Web site? If so, then display a message to your email non-responders the next time they visit. American Airlines, for example, has targeted banners on AA.com for email subscribers with bounced/out-of-date email addresses, but there's no reason this couldn't also be extended to include email non-responders.
If you have customer-level data and can identify your high value customers, then it may be worth using some budget to send a direct-mail piece or even call them up. Social networking sites can play a key role here, as well, so consider seeking feedback on your MySpace and Facebook pages, for example. You'll need to do some additional work to identify which fans are also email subscribers, but this approach could pay big dividends for relatively little cost. I haven't yet seen any marketers doing this proactively, so here is a chance to try something new. Use every means available to ask the customer if they still wish to receive your emails, or solicit their feedback on why they are no longer engaged.
Know the value of an email address. Spending all this time and effort should also require an ROI justification. Knowing that "On average, an email subscriber generates $20 a year in incremental revenue" not only provides a powerful endorsement of the channel, it can help guide you in deciding how to proceed with re-engagement, which channels to use and how much to invest in the endeavor.
Re-engaging email non-responders takes a sophisticated, well-thought-out approach. The ultimate answer is likely to be a combination of several approaches, based on customer segments, engagement history and channel preference