Managing Inactives: Prep Now for Holiday Success

Posted by Bonnie Malone on

Recently, I wrote about using data to guide your email strategy, and specifically your segmentation plan.  The 6 steps I outlined were the foundation for understanding your data, implementing a consistent mailing approach, and defining the lifecycle for your email subscribers. 

Now that you have those key lifecycle definitions for your email program, the next step is to use them to inform your strategy for handling inactives.  Many ISP’s are using engagement data (such as “This is Spam” and “This is Not Spam” buttons, and deleting without opening) in their filtering algorithms.  So, having a proactive strategy in place to recognize and address inactive subscribers is key to managing your deliverability risk during the highest volume mailing season of the year.

  • Start at the beginning.  Identify the point at which response metrics begin to wane, and complaints and unsubscribes begin to increase.  This crucial point is where subscribers are just beginning to drawback, and are most likely to become re-engaged.
  • Send a special message. Don’t be shy to send a message that acknowledges the noted change in behavior.  Take this opportunity to remind subscribers of the benefits of the email program (think back to the reasons that compelled their initial sign-up), educate subscribers on preferences options, and give them a coupon or exclusive content as a “we miss you” gesture.
  • Separate inactives in the mailstream.  Consider changing the mailing pattern for inactives, moving them to a specific IP, or sending separate campaigns for reporting purposes.  Having ongoing insight into email performance and conversions are important in optimizing your approach. 
  • Update your look.  Stepping away from your normal template could help grab attention from subscribers’ that have tuned out.  A different layout, font color, or even all text format can successfully re-engage.
  • Send a special message, again.  Sometimes one outreach isn’t enough.  Consider incorporating multiple “we miss you” messages during the weeks or months of greatest performance shift.  Just be sure to keep the content focused, but varied (don’t send the same email over and over again, stair-step the content over time). 
  • Ask for feedback.  If subscribers aren’t actively engaging like they used to, ask for their feedback as to why.  Perhaps the content is no longer relevant to their lifestyle, or their needs have changed.  Being proactive in asking for feedback gives subscribers an opportunity to voice their opinions, and gives you invaluable information for optimizing your email program.
  • Decide when to stop mailing.  As painful as it is to consider dropping a portion of your mailfile, consider the benefits.  Inactive subscribers are more likely to complain, become an unknown user, or worse, turn into a spam trap.  Look at your data to determine when the risks outweigh the rewards and it makes sense for your business to stop mailing inactive subscribers.

Remember, many ISP’s are using engagement data (such as “This is Spam” and “This is Not Spam” buttons, and deleting without opening) in their filtering algorithms.  So, while you are preparing your creative designs and promotions for the upcoming holidays, now is the time to implement an inactive strategy to remove risky data from your file and mitigate your deliverability risk (so your great new holiday campaign makes it to the inbox!).


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About Bonnie Malone

Bonnie is passionate about excellent customer experience. With a background in marketing, merchandise buying, and retail management, she helps companies stay relevant amid the changing digital landscape. Bonnie leads the knowledge and consulting teams at Return Path, the global leader in email deliverability. She is an active Email Experience Council committee member, featured speaker for events, and writes monthly for the Return Path blog and TotalRetail.

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