No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts
Email is a powerful tool in building relationships and keeping in touch with lovers of your brand. But not every subscriber who was once head-over-heels for your brand will keep that same passion forever.
Subscribers can start to go cold over time and continuing to pursue those who have not opened, clicked, or purchased in a long time can hurt our reputation over time. Then again, how do we know when it’s time to cut ties vs. when there is still a chance to rekindle the spark?
In this installment of No-Bullshit Advice From Email Experts, we brought together email experts from Benchmark Email, Holistic Email Marketing, Email on Acid, dotdigital, eFocus Marketing, iContact, Email Uplers, Customers Who Click and our resident email geek Lauren Meyer to help you implement an effective sunset strategy, so you know if it’s time to let go.
Here’s what they had to say…
Stop Wasting Your Time & Putting Your Deliverability At Risk
If your prospects don’t read your emails, so what, right? The truth is, when people aren’t reading your emails, you’re wasting your time on individuals that won’t engage, let alone buy your product. What’s even worse, you could be hurting your email deliverability.
When more and more people stop opening emails within the same email provider, that provider could filter out all of the emails, so none end up being sent. That could disrupt your entire email marketing strategy and significantly reduce your conversion rate. This leads to lower revenue coming in and a practically non-existent inbound funnel. And no one wants that.
This is why you need a sunset policy. Putting together a plan of action to tackle disengagement will ensure your deliverability stays pristine and you continue to engage with qualified leads interested in your services.
Try to identify disengagement patterns. This goes beyond unopened emails. Look at which emails receive the least engagement and if they happen at a particular stage in the customer journey. Nail down specifics to determine what can be done to rectify the issue. Something as simple as testing a new CTA for an email campaign can help improve engagement before you begin sunsetting contacts.
Next, know what your plan of action will be to remove disengaged leads from your outreach. Use your marketing automation software to determine which leads have the lowest score, and remove them from any email cadence. You can always initiate re-engagement tactics later on.
Make sure you vet your contacts routinely to remove the disengaged. Being consistent with your policy will ensure you’re staying on top of your deliverability.
If it’s time to re-engage those non-responsive contacts, try offering a promo or discount of some kind. Or, alert them about a new product or feature roll-out that you think they’ll find helpful. At BechmarkONE, we recently sent an email to dis-engaged leads informing them about our new Free Forever Plan. Seven percent of recipients from that campaign re-engaged, proving that no customer is gone for good.
3 Essentials to Re-Engagement
As a marketer, it’s your job to promote your products and services in the inbox, but it’s also your job to send wanted emails. Any email opt-in should be based on trust; remember that subscribers exchange their details for whatever you’re offering – relevant content and promotions, etc. – so it’s key to deliver on your promise.
But if subscribers are no longer engaging – it happens! – then something is wrong. Either they’re bored of your content or they’re no longer in the market for your product or service.
Whatever it is, offering them a way out is always a good idea; it protects your email deliverability and helps you gather feedback about your email program. Plus, it’s the decent thing to do – you want to let subscribers go in a smooth, pain-free way; so that if they ever come back, their experience won’t be overshadowed by a previous poor experience.
Here are my three re-engagement essentials:
- Criteria: set a timeline for when contacts become ‘lapsed’ – three months is best practice since email clients can tell when senders are consistently sending to non-openers and may penalize your sender score as a result.
- Win-back: send a ‘we miss you’ or ‘last chance’ message. There’s always a chance that subscribers have been busy and are just waiting for the right offer – so give it to them. Try your luck with a discount or an extended free trial.
- Letting go: opt them out and ask for feedback. Offering a smooth break-up keeps your brand in the subscriber’s good books. No one likes feeling trapped in a relationship they don’t want to be in. Be authentic, true to your brand – and ask for feedback on the email journey. What did they like, what didn’t they like? There’s always something to learn to help optimize your email program and maximize subscriber engagement moving forward.
Understanding the Implications of Your Actions
Firstly, the meaning of ‘unengaged’ needs to be defined. Are they defined as unengaged because they’re not opening or actioning your emails? Or, are they defined as unengaged because they’re no longer buying from you? Your actions will differ for each of these definitions.
If it’s the former, then I’d be slow to sunset them too quickly. It could simply be that your emails are not appealing to them, and this needs to be tested first and foremost.
There are 4 main personality types, and each of these personality types look for different things and are motivated by different things/emotions/offers within the subject line and email.
In my experience, most campaigns are created (designed and written) to appeal to the personality types that are within the team that create the emails – so try appealing to different personality types and see if that resonates with any of the unengaged.
Another major concern when sunsetting unengaged as defined by inactivity in email, is that you could potentially be sunsetting an active buyer, who just happens to use email as a prompt, rather than a vehicle to drive them to the website.
The UK DMA has some great insights on this within their Email Consumer Tracker Reports. Turns out a good percentage of people use email to prompt them to go to the website but don’t open or click when they see an email they like.
If it’s the latter definition, i.e. they’re no longer buying from you (and also no longer actioning your emails), then you are in a better position to be more overt in your messaging and offers – being assured that this is true disengagement.
But again, you still need to consider your buying cycle before sending offers and cutting them off. Many retailers do this too soon and don’t take into account those customers who buy yearly with a high AOV.
This is an enormous topic, so ensure you’ve studied your data and fully understand the implications of your actions.
Balance Revenue & Deliverability
Industry best practices often advise senders to remove unengaged users (i.e., those who don’t show signs of engagement such as opens and clicks) from your mailing list as a means to avoiding deliverability issues.
What deliverability folks like me rarely tell you is that in most cases, it’s not necessary to remove unengaged recipients if you’ve built a quality mailing list with permission and have managed that list properly over time (removing hard bounces, unsubscribes and spam complainers).
Don’t get me wrong: over-mailing to folks who can’t keep up and sending content that is irrelevant can lead to high levels of spam complaints (which are very bad for deliverability), so marketers should always monitor their sender reputation and take action quickly at the first signs of a problem.
But there are several reasons you may want to continue sending to those unengaged recipients on your list:
- Email is an incredibly affordable way to communicate with potential customers. And much like a billboard or TV commercial that you didn’t really pay attention to, but you did see, every little bit of exposure keeps a brand at top-of-mind when a consumer has a need for your product or offer.
- Email veterans like Dela Quist have shared research to confirm that customers who receive emails from you generate more revenue than those who don’t, even if those people never show any form of engagement with the emails you send.
- Recipient engagement can fluctuate due to seasonality, employment status and important life changes affecting their location, priorities and budget. Unengaged recipients can just as quickly fall back into your engaged segment when a particular subject line or sale catches their attention or when a change in their life makes your brand relevant again. Would you rather win them back by having them open an email from you for the first time in a while or by paying for that lead through PPC?
- In our Email Deliverability Unfiltered post on overrated metrics, Alyssa Dulin from ConvertKit highlighted several scenarios where an email can be opened but the tracking pixel isn’t loaded, or the email isn’t opened, but the tracking pixel is loaded. So how can a marketer really be sure if they’re cutting an engaged subscriber from their list or one who simply isn’t being tracked properly?
Ultimately, your decision about when to end the relationship with each subscriber should be driven by your business model and goals with email, but my advice is to send to as many subscribers as possible — as long as it’s not causing deliverability issues that eat into your profits and distract your team from delivering a great email experience.
3 Key Areas to Consider Before Saying Goodbye
Sunsetting unengaged subscribers is a step that is critical to consider as part of the health of your email marketing program. I always work through these three key areas with clients:
What other data do you have about these subscribers outside of email behavior?
Have they ever bought from you? Are they still buying from you? What type of buyer are they? What other data do you have around their behavior in different areas – e.g., website activity, social media activity, engagement with other channels?
This additional data will allow you to build up a more detailed profile of your inactive subscribers and deal with them on a more personalized basis. For example, those subscribers who’ve never made a purchase and haven’t engaged in a long time [insert time period depending on your business lifecycles] are much colder prospects than a disengaged email subscriber who is still buying from you regularly; and everyone in between.
What email type best fits the segment?
Once you have this additional data about your subscribers, you can make a more informed decision for each type as to whether to reactivate, re-permission, delete, or simply reduce their frequency. Each of these different strategies offers its own benefits.
Don’t stop at one…
Whichever of these strategies you choose, make sure you send a series of emails over time before making any final decisions about removing your subscribers. Give people at least a few weeks to respond positively.
If You Can’t Win ‘Em Back It’s Time to Let ‘Em Go
Generally, if a contact hasn’t opened an email after 30 to 60 days, they’re considered unengaged. But this timeframe is subjective and can vary greatly by the business and list.
This 30- to 60-day window is when some email marketers trigger win-back emails to try to get re-engagement. So, that’s a good starting point when considering when to send a re-engagement email. A contact who hasn’t opened an email in 365 days is probably worth purging, as their hard bounce potential is much greater.
Another best practice to keep in mind is incorporating segmentation and personalization in your sunsetting strategy. Segmenting and personalizing re-engagement emails typically leads to better results, and it ensures you’re giving your best effort to keep them engaged.
When thinking about implementing a sunset strategy, it’s also a good idea to keep in mind the enduring insights from Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing and what level your prospect or customer is at when sending a re-engagement email.
When to let go
Like most things in email marketing, a lot of the strategy around expunging unengaged contacts is going to depend on your list, product, and overall business strategy. Here are some questions to ask when starting to develop a sunsetting strategy:
- For B2B, what is the length of an average sales lifecycle?
- For B2C, what is the average time between repeat purchases?
Answering these questions should hopefully give you a general timeframe around the most opportune time to deliver compelling, relevant messaging. It can also guide a baseline when a contact may be unengaged.
Make a Clean Break, But Before You Do…
When it comes to breakups, a clean break is usually the best for everyone involved. Sometimes relationships can be salvaged. When it comes to your email marketing campaigns, the faster you clean your list of disengaged subscribers, the better. Better for your analytics and better for your email deliverability.
The way I see it, you have three options. Make a clean break and remove subscribers that have not opened in a while (6 months- 1 year), send a win-back email, or a series (up to 3) of emails to win over the hearts and minds of your subscribers. Keep in mind that some may not be opening because your emails are going to their spam folder!
Re-engagement campaigns tend to yield a 1-6% response rate, so you need to decide if it is worth it. Use emotion or a great offer to get them back in the fold. It is a high risk – high reward activity because the response rate is low, but according to Email Monks, 45% of those that engage with your re-engagement email will read subsequence emails.
I leave the decision to you on how to clean your lists, but make sure to break up when the flame of love burns out or suffer the consequences!
Building a Strategy to Re-Engage—What You Need to Know
“Having only 1000 active subscribers is better than having 25000 subscribers with only 25% of them actively engaging with your emails.”
Over time, it is quite natural that your email subscribers will get disinterested and stop engaging with your email communications. 20 to 30 percent of email addresses decay over just one year. Emailing such people is a waste of time and money and hampers email deliverability.
A suitable workaround to overcome this problem is maintaining a healthy list and removing these inactive subscribers from the list.
Email sunsetting is a systematic process in which you identify the inactive subscribers who have not engaged with your emails for some time and build a strategy to re-engage them. If they still do not engage, you delete them from the email list.
Criteria to Employ a Sunsetting Strategy
- First of all, you must define “inactivity” for your business. The definition of inactivity will be different for every industry and business type. As an example: let’s say you have considered six months as the period of inactivity.
- Subsequently, you must segment them according to two parameters:
- Users who have never purchased from you
- Users who made a purchase a long time ago
Brands send out a series of re-engagement emails to the unengaged contacts and entice them to take action.
Take a look at these two re-engagement emails by the payment app Simpl. Besides a concise and engaging copy, they have also drafted an attractive subject line to make people open the email.
Subject line for the first email (sent January 4th):
- You’ve few missed calls from this offer…
Subject line for the second email (sent January 27th):
- FOMO alert! Don’t miss this offer! ↓
The content of the emails is entirely in sync with the respective subject lines.
Note that many brands directly delete the unengaged contacts without any attempt to re-engage them. According to me, that is not advisable. You must always try to re-engage the dormant subscribers, and then if they still do not engage after a series of two to three re-engagement emails, you must let go of them.
Send them an email like Sidekick does and then remove them if they do not click-through.
The bottom line is having people unsubscribe or removing them from the list manually is better than keeping inactive subscribers in the list.
Maybe They’re Just Not That Into You
I keep it pretty simple really. If subscribers are unengaged, it means 1 of 2 things.
- Your content is rubbish, in which case a sunsetting strategy is the least of your worries.
- They’re just not really interested anymore.
Assuming it’s the latter, I follow one basic rule; if the subscriber has not engaged in any way with an email for 6 months, they get segmented out of the main list.
This doesn’t mean they’re out and gone, they’re not dead to me. They’re just segmented out of the main lists, as there’s no point continuing to send them the emails.
Then send them 2 emails a week apart outlining the key reasons why someone should be subscribed to the list, but also simply saying if they don’t want to be subscribed anymore, just click this link (or click the link to stay subscribed).
This is just a final check to see whether there’s anyone there who hasn’t been receiving the emails or hasn’t really been paying attention but does want to stay involved.
One key thing though, don’t ever try to make the subscriber feel guilty. None of this ‘No I don’t want to be a more awesome person anymore’ rubbish that some brands put on their subscription forms.
It’s annoying, it’s insulting, don’t do it.
More No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts Coming Soon
Stay tuned, we’ll be posting more No Bullshit Advice soon. Read our last expert round up about Careers in the Email Industry or catch up on the entire series here: No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts.
And as always, feel free to share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
Keep your list healthy and boost campaign performance by regularly cleaning your email list. We’ll let you know which email addresses are good, bad and risky, before you hit send.
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