Tactics To Reduce Email Address Churn

Email address turnover -- "churn" -- is a fact of life for email marketers, as I said in my previous Email Insider, but you have many strategies and tactics to help reduce it.

1. Treat subscribers differently based on acquisition source. The battle to reduce churn begins before the opt-in happens. How people get into your database and how you treat them afterward can have a significant impact on churn.

Treat subscribers differently during the onboarding process, and use different content approaches based on their acquisition source.

Subscribers who were incentivized with a sweepstakes, discount, gift, etc., might need extra handholding early on to grasp your value proposition. They are also more likely to respond to discounts and similar offers than someone who joins your program during the purchase process or without an incentive.

2. Manage expectations. Whether deliberately or by chance, your opt-in or registration process creates expectations. How you manage and deliver on those expectations can raise or lower your address churn.



You set those expectations -- your promise of what and when you will deliver in your emails -- with the size, prominence, language and value proposition you use at opt-in or during registration. Managing those expectations also happens in your welcome email or onboarding process and throughout the subscriber relationship.

3. Use an onboarding program. How you manage the subscription experience right after opt-in also can increase or decrease churn. I favor onboarding, which adds dynamic content to a calibrated set of welcome messages that reflect the subscriber's interests, preferences and pre-opt-in behavior.

But even a basic welcome message sent immediately after opt-in, with content that reinforces expectations and invites the subscriber to fill out a preference center or go back to the site to shop, beats doing nothing.

Add progressive profiling during and after the onboarding process and surveys sent periodically throughout the subscription period to capture additional profile data.

4. Deliver relevant content. Setting expectations is the first step. Next, you must assess whether your content delivers on those expectations. If it doesn’t, many subscribers will soon tune out, which raises churn.

You can't expect every email to be a perfect match. You need an element of surprise, whether it's introducing a new but related merchandise line, cross-selling or upselling or similar kinds of content. Also, add some "white space" by alternating your usual sales promotions with messages that offer tips, videos, user-generated content, how-to information, humor and more.

Incorporate both explicit preferences, which subscribers indicate in preference centers, survey responses, etc., and implicit preferences -- behavior signals from buying, browsing and email activity -- in email content.  

5. Use early activation techniques. One of the biggest mistakes email marketers make is deploying "reactivation" campaigns six, nine or 12 months after a subscriber goes inactive. In my experience, most subscribers who go inactive do so around the three-month period after opt-in.

Instead, put individual subscribers into "early activation" programs as soon as their behavior shows they have disengaged. Try different styles of subject lines or a different cadence. Use content designed to engage rather than sell. Send a survey and/or request to update preferences.

6. Update your preference centers and email links. Do you make it easy for people to stay on your list when they are actually trying to leave? Update your preference centers and email links to include:

  • Email address change
  • Frequency options
  • List and key profile and preferences
  • Subscription "snooze" option
  • Alternative channels

Also, update those administrative links in your emails to include the actual names of the options in the links (e.g., "Change Email Address," "Receive Fewer Emails," "Pause Emails") rather than just using the generic "Update Preferences."

7. Invest in change of address.  One of the main contributors to address churn comes from subscribers who switch email providers but don't update their email addresses with you. Make it easy for subscribers to change their email addresses, but also consider ECOA services and proactive outreach.

When an address bounces, try reaching subscribers though social channels, direct mail post cards, in-store signs or through your mobile app and call center.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

1 comment about "Tactics To Reduce Email Address Churn".
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  1. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., April 18, 2014 at 11:13 a.m.

    Nice birdseye view, Loren.

    Email address churn rates (excluding inactives) continue to hover in the 20% to 30%+ range per year. On top of this, inactives typically comprise 25% to 50+% of a file. Continually messaging these email addresses costs money and hurts overall deliverability.

    For inactives, as Loren mentions, your first line of defense is a re-engagement campaign, preferably with an attractive offer to get these customers re-engaged. This may or may not be successful, depending upon the percentage of these email address accounts that are still being read.

    From our experience at FreshAddress working with 25% of the Fortune 100 and many leading marketers and nonprofits, most of the inactives in a marketer's file are the result of sending emails to dormant accounts… like the ones Yahoo purged last summer. Sending emails to these dormant accounts might not cost much but these costs certainly add up over time. Furthermore, it’s not going to drive engagement or revenues because no one’s reading these emails anymore.

    If your re-engagement program does not bring specific customers back, marketers should remove these inactives from their files and run them through an ECOA service to re-engage these customers at their current preferred addresses. What’s the benefit of developing great creative, promotions, and campaigns if your emails are not being read?

    For further details on how leading marketers are reconnecting with customers lost to inactive or bouncing email addresses, see

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