email reactivation campaign options

Email Rebirth : Activating Inactives

The holidays are tough on email recipients. Almost everyone I’ve chatted with lately has noted that they are drowning in promotional email messages. Marketing organizations typically light on outgoing communications have sprung back into action like seasonal church-goers. Monthly and weekly senders have stomped on the accelerator, their email marketing engines apparently fueled with Noel-inspired nitrous.

I can’t speak for everyone, but as the temperature has dropped outside, my personal delete-to-read ratio has peaked. But the senders keep on sending…

“Unwrap the Biggest Savings This Season”
“Exceptional Gifts She’ll Use Every Day”
“Get It There by Christmas”
“Our Gift to You – 20% Off Select Items”
“Didn’t Get What You Wanted?”

…and so on…

The ceaseless salvo of email artillery has come with good reason, right? I mean, the marketers behind the barrage must be seeing a worthwhile return or they would rest their collective retention rifles, no? Perhaps their analytics indicate a warranted increase in sending frequency thanks to a surge in seasonal recipient behavior. Maybe they received a directive to “blast away” at all costs from company leadership. They might even believe all that they are delivering to my inbox is truly valuable (chuckles).

Whatever the motivation for increased sending, this much is true: many recipients have likely had their fill of the cookies, the lights, the caroling, the tree needles, the wrapping paper, and the never-ending flow of emails. Fatigue will set in and many subscribers will simply stop engaging, or dare I say, stop caring.

If you are wrestling with the prospect of reinvigorating slumbering recipients, here are some suggested next steps. Please note that the appropriate move is determined by the context of your program and your brand’s historical relationship with each individual recipient. In other words, choose wisely; one size does not fit all.

Email Reactivation Campaigns

Additionally, each one of these options should go into effect after you define and identify inactive recipients. “Inactives” are usually defined by lack of response over a given time period (e.g. zero opens over the last five sends). Consider segmenting those on your list into designated categories based on their level of interest from “opens and clicks everything” to “opens occasionally, clicks rarely” to “actual pulse is unconfirmed.” Segmenting by activity level will help you determine the correct next step.

Let Them Go

This would be the chilliest of the available options. If all other attempts to garner a meaningful response have been attempted, it may be best to simply purge a contact from your list and go on living separate lives. Removing a non-responsive contact can improve email metrics, list health, and sender reputation.

However, don’t rush to judgment when taking this option. There is such a thing as the right message at the wrong time. At least make a series of “win-back” attempts before breaking it off for good.

Hold for the Big Stuff

Once a threshold for inactivity is defined and a group of silent subscribers have been identified, create an inactive segment of your list. As opposed to sending this group regularly scheduled communique, hold off on deliveries except for major announcements, specials, and hyper-focused incentive offers. Although limited, messages to this group should carry pronounced value, and targeted calls to action based on the recipient’s individual preferences if possible.

No Change

If your relationship with a passive or inactive subscribers is relatively new, keep on keeping on. With a little more time (and testing), you may find that new-ish subscribers will eventually come around to persistent relevance.

To support this option, it can be especially important to monitor overall website or ecommerce metrics around the time frame of email delivery. Simply sending the message to a targeted subscriber may trigger an action separate from that which can be tracked within campaign metrics. Viewing the indirect impact email deliveries have on sales, revenue and lead generation is a crucial consideration. Read more about this email halo effect here.

Double Check Their Interest

There are two kinds of re-engagement campaigns. The first simply involves a temperature check amongst inactives. Do they really want to receive your messages? If so, what specifically would they like to receive? At what frequency would they like to receive it? This essentially equates to a re-subscribe action and involves the capture of additional preference data.

resusbscribe email campaign

As your previous email messages have likely conditioned inactive subscribers not to behave in a certain way, the tone and look of this email, as reflected in the subject line, “from” name, content and design, should be different from what you typically deliver. Shake things up a bit with email creative to stand out among previous and competitive messaging.

The Win-Back

The final and most powerful option for email reactivation is the Win-Back campaign. In this scenario, we provide passive subscribers something of remarkable value to encourage action. The only requirement here is that the incentive must be relevant to the individual subscriber. Base the premise of your Win-Back offers on a product purchased by the subscriber, an event or content production that drove initial subscription, a special or meaningful occurrence (like a recipient’s birthday), etc.

win back email campaign

Similar to the “resubscribe” tactic, a Win-Back campaign must carry a unique look and feel from subject line to creative for the recipient. Many companies also use the Win-Back method to garner repeat purchases from previous but dormant customers like the example below. View more notes and see sample Win-Back campaigns here.

win back campaign examples


The question is not if your subscribers will settle into a long winter’s nap, but when. Plan ahead by carefully and openly retrieving valuable customer data to inform the ideal scenario for reactivation. Above all, remember that relevance for the recipient breeds return for the sender.

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