Email continues to be a marketing channel that brands rely on to connect directly with their customers. The more data that becomes available, the better the customer experience can be tailored to the individual. However, not all subscribers read and click every email they receive—society would come to a grinding halt if that occurred. A healthy email marketing program suppresses these subscribers after some time, but it does not mean they are completely lost. With the right email marketing strategy, brands are able to extract untapped value in suppressed email subscribers.
Identify and Suppress Unengaged Email Subscribers
Subscribers that do not open or click an email are unengaged. If they go long enough without engaging, then the email subscriber should be suppressed from active email marketing campaigns. Email engagement is the single most important factor affecting email deliverability and inbox placement (a point we made in a recent post on the topic). As the number of emails not opened or clicked increases, the risk to a brand’s Internet Protocol (IP) reputation increases. When IP reputation is too poor, internet service providers (ISP) may hold or prevent email from reaching a subscriber’s inbox. According to Validity, about 1 in 5 emails do not make it to the inbox. For our clients, we typically begin suppressing unengaged email subscribers between six to nine months of inactivity. In some situations, that may increase to 12 months of inactivity.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, for example, a client had vital information about grocery store protocols and product inventory to get out to as many people as possible. We expanded their deployment list and only suppressed subscribers unengaged for greater than 12 months. While risky to IP reputation, we believed the email would generate very high engagement due to its relevance to the pandemic. In the end, we were correct, as engagement of previously suppressed subscribers was very high. We even kept the 12 month suppression in play for a number of weeks following before returning to a 9 month suppression.
Our responsibility as the stewards of our client’s email marketing program is to assess risk and make sure email lands in a subscriber’s inbox. As email engagement is so important to this process, we always ensure that unengaged email subscribers are suppressed. From there we determine the best course of action to try and re-engage them.
Re-engaging Suppressed Email Subscribers
We work with clients to devise a plan to re-engage subscribers. We also aim to determine the ideal solution, or solutions, as they may not be the same for all subscribers. That is when re-engagement campaigns can really take shape, become more personalized or designed to enhance the customer experience, and even expand beyond just email.
Begin with an Email
The first step to re-engagement is an email specifically targeting suppressed email subscribers outside the normal cadence of an active campaign. The objective is to have the email opened. If the subscriber opens the email, they are no longer suppressed, and are back in the active marketing campaigns. Therefore, factors that drive opens are most important. Those factors include: subject line, from name, day of week, and time of day. Testing is employed to optimize for each of these over time. We typically start with subject lines that have historically been successful and optimize from there. Same with the other variables listed. When we’re satisfied with the performance of an initial email, we automate it as the beginning of a short journey. Additional communications then follow in a timely manner. However, those communications aren’t always an email.
Expand the Digital CRM Channel Strategy
Email is not the preferred channel of communication for some subscribers. This does not mean they are inactive or disloyal customers—they just might not like emails from you (don’t take it personally!). This is when we expand the digital CRM channel strategy. Some clients have suppressed subscribers who are also signed up for SMS messages and/or push messages. We are then able to insert communications via those channels to suppressed email subscribers.
In one example, we deployed an SMS to customers not engaging with email. The result was a 75% lift in engagement versus a control of unengaged subscribers that did not receive the SMS. The test worked and eventually became standard practice. A similar campaign was run using push resulting in a week-over-week increase in engagement activity of 236%.
Another option to re-engage suppressed email subscribers is targeted banner ads via social media advertising platforms or broader ad platforms like Google Ads. Lists of unengaged subscribers can be uploaded to the respective platform and banner campaigns can be targeted to them. Subscribers that re-engage with these banners are then segmented and communicated to differently based on this behavior.
Overall, planning and testing are key for a solid re-engagement campaign across multiple channels. We don’t typically do everything at once, but instead build out and test with each step. At the end of the journey, any subscribers still not engaged must be dealt with appropriately.
Knowing When to Say Goodbye
Always remember that an email subscriber that does not open or click your email is not good for the health of your program. The longer they receive emails and do not engage, the greater the risk to your IP reputation. Removing these subscribers from your active campaigns is a healthy activity practice. Re-engaging even a small percentage thereafter is a major win. The bottom line is to focus on the customer first—who are they, why should they care about you, what do they want or need, and how can you help.
Andy Locke is Managing Director at Response Labs, a digital CRM marketing agency in Baltimore and Seattle. Response Labs is a Salesforce, Marketo and Sitecore Partner that helps Fortune 1000 clients “Make Every Message Matter.” Response Labs is a proud AMA Baltimore sponsor.