Email Reengagement: Is it Time to Say Goodbye?

Keeping subscribers engaged is a longtime favorite topic of discussion. But over the last few years, as more inbox providers have adopted engagement as an inbox placement factor, the importance continues to grow. Some email marketers have gone the drastic route of suppressing anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked in 120 days, while others are ignoring these engagement metrics altogether, embracing the “just keep sending” mentality.

I have been surprised over the years to see atypical approaches work really well for brands. That’s why I won’t make any black-and-white statements about a reengagement strategy, or broadly promote one approach over another.  I recommend that you avoid rushing to judgment as well, instead finding the right approach to reengage your unique audience. Here are some ideas on building your program:

Defining Unengaged
The hardest part of creating reengagement programs is defining what unengaged really means to your business. The inbox providers determine engagement based on actions within the inbox environment only: Is someone opening the emails you’re sending them? But living by the ISP definition alone can be detrimental to your business.



For example, a former colleague is an avid Kindle reader. He receives email on his iPhone announcing the release of a new book he wants. The information is featured in the subject line, so he knows everything he needs to know without opening the message. He immediately grabs his Kindle and downloads the book.

Would you consider him unengaged because he hasn’t opened the email? It is important to look at the correlation between the deployment of an email and conversion on the site. Chances are, you will see increased purchase behavior that isn’t directly tied to an email click, but that is a result of the impression your email made on the recipient in the inbox. While you may not be able to prove to Gmail that your subscriber is engaged, simply discontinuing sending to this person may not be the right approach, either.

Batched or Automated?
There are two common approaches to building reengagement programs: batched and automated.

A batched approach is typically run as an ad hoc program, once or twice a year, as the defined unengaged audience reaches some sense of critical mass. Typically, a message deploys to the unengaged audience with a “We Miss You,” type of message, and since the goal is to drive open or click behavior, these programs often rely on a confirmation from the subscriber.

An automated approach is often a more effective way to manage reengagement, as it allows you to identify subscribers who are “nearly inactive” or “newly inactive,” implementing the program as the engagement begins to trend downward. Triggering the messaging as a direct result of behavior creates a relevance often lost with a more sporadic batched approach.

It will likely take more than one message to reengage the customer with both approaches. However, you certainly don’t want to string together 10 messages over the course of two weeks, telling the subscriber that you are really serious this time and you are going to suppress them. (And don’t think that doesn’t happen. I am experiencing this right now with a brand that shall go unnamed. Each messages “threatens” to be the last unless I reconfirm my subscription at this very minute. I do not, the messages keep coming, and I get annoyed.)

Positioning the Reengagement Message
Now, the funny thing about reengagement programs is that for them to work, you need to find a new approach to getting customers to engage. But too often I see brands using the same old format for their subject line. This isn’t likely to grab the attention of a subscriber who has been ignoring these same subject lines from you for several months “We Miss You” has become relatively common. I have also seen others like, “Is this goodbye?” or “Open Me First.” This is definitely something to test. I have worked with a number of brands who have seen great success simply by using the phrase “valued customer” in the subject line.

Buying Back Your Subscribers
Including an offer can help reengage customers. I have seen many brands include the offer as the “last-ditch effort,” say in the third message of the reengagement stream. But an offer isn’t always required. Simply reminding recipients of the value proposition, the reason why they engaged in the first place, can be just as effective.

Applying Progressive Profiling to Reengagement
Understanding why the recipient has grown distant from your brand can really help your approach. Try progressive profiling to surface the issue. This technique can include a question, such as:

“It’s been a while since we’ve heard from you. Have you:

  • Been satisfying your shopping needs elsewhere
  • Only needed us to buy a gift for a friend
  • Grown tired of hearing from us
  • Just been busy but still want to hear from us”

Each option can function as a link to content that may be relevant to the response. For example, “Been satisfying your shopping needs elsewhere” could drive to a featured shopping page to remind the subscriber of what you have to offer. “Only needed us to buy a gift for a friend” could drop the subscriber at a gift-giving section of the site. “Grown tired of hearing from us” can take them to a subscription management page, and the “Just been busy…” link can take the clicker to a “we value your loyalty” page that may include an offer easy for a busy subscriber to leverage immediately.

To Suppress or Not to Suppress -- Is That a Question?
While engagement is important, and you should always evaluate how you message to folks who are not engaging with you, I feel that to outright saying goodbye to them seems counterintuitive. The cost of acquiring a customer is far greater than the cost to retain one – so why would you choose to tell your subscriber to pound sand? I am not saying that there isn’t a time and place for suppression, but I wouldn’t do it haphazardly.

Not engaging with your emails can be like losing touch with an old friend. Once subscribers have had a chance to talk again, they wonder why they lost touch in the first place.

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