Should You Email Inactive Subscribers?

Not emailing to inactive email addresses has long been a best practice in email, but is it still the right approach? Panelists debated this issue at the Email Insider Summit in Montreux, Switzerland today.

"When you are sending email, it is a negotiation with an ISP, they don't have to deliver that email," argued Laura Villevieille, email delivery manager at IBM, stressing that marketers should be careful about emailing inactive customers because of the risk of not getting delivered. "Part of that negotiation is the open rate," she explained.

Dela Quist, CEO of AlchemyWorx, called this "nonsense." He argues that deliverability experts take a doom and gloom perspective to mailing inactives for fear that email delivery will be hurt, but he says that deliverability issues can be fixed. He argued that it is worth mailing people who have disengaged because the more email you send, the more revenue your email will generate. "You can't engage with an email you didn't get," claimed Quist. 

Jan Niggemann, regional director of central Europe at Return Path, agreed that brands should cut loose their inactives list. He cautions that a disengaged audience members are most likely to take negative actions such as an opt out, a negative comment or a complaint. However, he says that it should be done differently than it has been in the past and that marketers need to work harder before cutting people off of the list. Rather than simply not emailing inactives, he recommends doing very careful testing and striking the right balance by working on a reengagement series.



2 comments about "Should You Email Inactive Subscribers?".
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  1. Al DiGuido from Optimus Publishing, July 2, 2014 at 9:40 a.m.

    The real question here is how many marketers are monitoring the interaction between their emails and their customers and have a special proactive strategy ( based on previous experience) to get greater opens and clicks ? Most are still sending irrelevant emails to most of their audience. Seems as though all of this obsession about data mining and hyper targeting
    is just industry speak. As marketers we need to be hypersensitive at the first sign of "trouble". A customer who has been engaging with us that goes suddenly silent and non responsive demands our attention. Most are waiting too late to attempt recovery efforts.

  2. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., July 3, 2014 at 12:12 p.m.

    Great question and a vexing problem for marketers. Inactives typically comprise 25% to 50+% of a file. Continually messaging these email addresses costs money and hurts overall deliverability.

    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 addresses that are still active accounts. Of course, some individuals might re-engage with you in-store or through your call centers so it's critical to monitor re-engagement through all channels before seeking alternative methods to reconnect with these lost connections.

    From our experience at FreshAddress working with 25% of the Fortune 100 and many leading marketers and nonprofits, many 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 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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