Re-Engaging Your Email Non-Responders

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 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

6 comments about "Re-Engaging Your Email Non-Responders".
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  1. Jared stivers, March 30, 2009 at 12:46 p.m.

    Excellent article Richard. Another perhaps more radical approach is to re-opt in that big chuck of list that is essentially deadwood. If they are in fact finding value in your campaigns despite non response they will opt back in. My analysis has show that the 10% who do opt back in quickly become more valuable than the current pool of lapsed customers.

    This has a few benefits, it reaffirms their loyalty, gets them back on your site, reduces spam complaints (better ISP reputation) and if your ESP charges on a CPM basis it saves money.

    I've outlined the case against deadwood and how to test the value of re-opting them on my blog

    Jared Stivers

  2. Steve Webster from iPost, March 30, 2009 at 1:04 p.m.

    While an effort to reengage the inactive part of your list is an excellent idea and almost always worth the cost, I don't agree with this:

    "Before deciding on a course of action, marketers need to find out why subscribers are no longer responsive"

    In our experience, the "why" of customer behavior is interesting, but not really necessary to know here. More profitable is running campaigns specifically designed to make potential reengagement customers "raise their hands" and identify themselves for followup, regardless of why they became disengaged. We use RFM analysis for customer identification, but a simple click will do.

    With the proper analysis tools for segmenting and a solid offer & call to action, reengagement campaigns can be run mostly on autopilot. Our clients run these reengagement campaigns continually, "in the background" of the normal marketing programs to engaged customers.

    Their mailing frequency and timing is adjusted for balance of positive and negative response to stay away from delivery trouble. Production and monitoring effort is minimized for best ROI. But little effort is spent figuring out why a customer became unengaged, simply because it's not generally cost effective to do so.

  3. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., March 30, 2009 at 1:17 p.m.

    Great article. However, you might have missed the most important factor contributing to non-responsiveness, that being that the email addresses of your non-responders are no longer the ones they check on a regular basis or at all. With a 30+% annual churn rate of email addresses, most of our clients find that dormant email addresses account for a substantial portion of their non-responder/inactive files.

    The key, therefore, is to reconnect with these customers at their current preferred email addresses, which can be accomplished cost-effectively through an ECOA (Email Change of Address) service.

    It's also important to remove these non-responders from your working list as many of the closed email domains, which do not send back bounce-back info, are utilized by Spamhaus as spamtrap addresses so leaving these in your messaging files can result in your being blacklisted.

  4. John Caldwell from, March 30, 2009 at 2:14 p.m.

    And when all else fails, know when to let go....

  5. Casey Newman from Knotice, March 30, 2009 at 3:27 p.m.

    Good article, Richard.
    It's important, also, to pay attention to what your subscribers are saying. Take the time to get to know them. Just because you knew their opt-in behavior then, does that mean you know their needs and likes now?
    Amy Chubbuck also points out things to keep in mind when communicating with your subscribers in this blog post:

  6. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, March 30, 2009 at 9:34 p.m.

    A perplexing question which is very personal. It's always about them not about the email marketer. Let them tell you when they wish to leave the flock. The very next email message may be the one which excites them. Plus many people read the email in the 'preview frame' of which most programs cannot measure. So it may be your offer is exciting them yet.
    Cheers Kurt Johansen - Australia's Email marketing Guru

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