email list fatigue

Three Methods to Battle Email List Fatigue

Make no mistake. Email lists are assets. The value of the list is only as great as the distinctive connections the brand shares with individual subscribers.

While some email recipients may eat up every ingredient you offer up to their inboxes, others just aren’t that into you. This lack of interest, mutual affection, and activity indicates where the real vulnerability lies within your email list. The true menace to a well-performing and profitable email marketing program is not the unsubscribed, but rather the uninspired.

The opposite of love is not hate; it is apathy.
– Rollo May

Here are three strategies to place direct focus on the disinterested and appeal to the apathetic.

Identify Inactives and Begin The Courtship Process Anew

Has an individual subscriber not shown any signs of life over a significant amount of time? It’s probably time to check in on her.

The determination of who is “inactive” vs. “active” is completely at your discretion. With proper context, you may decide that those on your list who can be classified as “inactives” haven’t opened or clicked an email from you in the past X sends or the previous Y weeks. Make the call, but be consistent. Consider initial subscribe date to avoid sending a re-engagement message to recent subscribers.

I’ve written previously about email reactivation campaign strategies and tactics, but the process goes like so:

A. Segment inactives based on lack of activity over a set period of time or a quantity of previously sent emails.
B. Design a campaign that is meant to upset the current flow. Use a subject line that reads outside the norm.
C. Within the body of the email, acknowledge a lack of activity and invite the subscriber to re-engage.
D. Encourage inactives to update preferences or provide them with a special offer. Here are a few examples below.

A simple re-engagement message from Lowe’s:

Lowes Reactivation Email

A “We’ve Missed You” message with incentives from Crate & Barrel:

Crate & Barrel Activation Email

An invitation to see what’s new and a special discount from Rockport:

Rockport Reactivation Email

Encourage Preference Center Updates

It is difficult to appeal to someone when we don’t know exactly what they want from us or what they truly value from our relationship. Utilization of a preference center can solve this mystery.

Most any Email Service Provider (ESP) allows for a customizable preference center. Your job is to A) make modifications to this tool so that aligns with your brand and provides a means to capture subscriber interests and motivations that can impact future email messages, and B) determine the best way to promote the preference center.

Here is a sample custom preference center from The Home Depot in which the subscriber can select among home improvement interests, gardening interests, skill levels (beginner to expert), and content subscriptions.

Home Depot Preference Center

As noted in the points above, a preference center can be the subject of a unique campaign meant to win back the attention of inactive subscribers. Here is a sample from Artifact Uprising in which the preference center is positioned as a survey:

Artifact Uprising Preference Email

You can also introduce the preference center and encourage its use during other crucial points in the publisher-subscriber relationship:

  1. On the “thank you for signing up” page immediately following subscription.
  2. During a “welcome” series, which aims to provide important information about what the recipient can expect in their inboxes. Also take this opportunity to elicit preferences data to ensure the utmost in relevance.
  3. As an omnipresent element in all email communications. Most email marketers include a small link to update preferences adjacent to an unsubscribe link in the footer. If preference data is important to you as an email marketer (as it should be), consider making the “update your preferences” link a more prominent fixture in your email template.
  4. During unsubscribe actions. Perhaps a few subscribers aren’t necessarily fed up with all your emails, just specific content or delivery frequency. A preference center can be introduced during unsubscribe confirmations to give the recipient control. Check out the example below from

Pet Flow Email Preferences

Review Email Performance Metrics by Content/Topic

In a preemptive move to remain in the good graces of those that interact with your email marketing messages today but could tumble down into an area of disinterest later, consider reviewing your content metrics. Here is how it works.

Assuming you have sent a decent volume of emails that focus on various content topics, segment these emails and their performance metrics by subject matter. The following example comes from a recent email audit I performed. Please note the numbers are a modified replica of reality to protect the client’s anonymity.

Over the course of six months, the client had sent dozens of emails to its audience. Each email delivery fell into one of five topic segments. Take a look at the metrics below.

Email Content Performance Metrics

We can take a few notes away from this data to inform our email content planning and editorial calendar process.

  1. Educational content scores well in both open and click rate metrics. This kind of content seems to perform well and we should produce more of it.
  2. The Product Introduction and Special Offer topics score high in open rate indicating well-crafted subject lines that piqued recipients’ curiosity. However, they did not produce outstanding follow through with lower click rate metrics.
  3. The Gift Giving topic does not perform well according to either metric and should likely be discontinued or reserved for a subset of the audience who has explicitly requested these kinds of messages.
  4. Further analysis is likely needed to determine what topic has the greatest impact on sales. We might find that a topic that does not necessarily generate a high volume of opens and clicks does produce site visitors with a very high likelihood of conversion/purchase behavior.


No matter how you encourage inactive and apathetic subscribers to engage with your email content, always strive to provide the most pertinent and meaningful messages for each individual recipient. Minimize churn and list fatigue by amplifying relevance.