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How to win back lost email subscribers

How to win back lost email subscribers

By Kara Trivunovic, global director, strategy and market innovation, StrongMail

The goal of any email programme should be engagement. After all, what’s the point of continually sending email if no one is opening, clicking or converting...in any channel?

Reengagement programmes seem to have a number of definitions and suggestions on how to approach it are infinite. But no matter how you look at it, the fact is that it’s less expensive to maintain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one. The prospect of reengagement, therefore, should appeal to any marketer.

The key to successfully winning back customers is working out why they disengaged in the first place. Sometimes it boils down to just how well you know and understand the cyclical nature of your business.

Historically, the prevailing attitude among email marketers was that since sending email is so inexpensive, it's not worth the trouble to suppress inactive users. Not too long ago it was an issue of little importance – but that has changed. With more and more inbox providers leveraging open, click and reply as metrics for determining inbox placement, there is now punishment invoked for sending to non- responders.

Taking a holistic picture of your customers’ experience and interaction with your brand is imperative; it is often off-line actions that could be impacting on-line behavior. For example, a bad customer service experience via telephone, failure to accept a coupon in- store, or maybe losing someone’s luggage during air travel could impact or influence the recipients’ desire to engage with your email communications. Scenarios such as these make it even more important to have one, cohesive view of the customer, because responding to those situations in a realistic amount of time can go a long way in correcting the dismay, or at least minimising it.

The five steps towards an effective reengagement programme

1. Develop your definition of ‘disengaged’

The key to successfully winning back customers is working out why they disengaged in the first place. But defining an unengaged subscriber can be tough.

Just because a subscriber did not open and click on your email doesn’t mean they did not purchase from you or engage via other channels. Often, it is necessary to look outside your standard email metrics to determine what disengagement means for your company.

Common metrics to look at include: email open, email click, email conversion, web site log-in, online purchase, off-line purchase and subscription renewal. But engagement is situational to an organisation, sometimes even at a product level, so be sure to spend ample time uncovering what it truly means to you before moving anything forward.

2. Identify the audience that meets the definition and analyse

Depending on the size of the audience and how tight the definition of inactivity is, you may need to narrow in on certain elements. For example, you may find that a group of subscribers had no engagement activity in the past 12 months and no purchases. However that same group was both active and made purchases during the 12 months prior. This would indicate that the customers have a predication to be active with your brand, but not in the last 12-months for some reason. As a result, they may be a good group to talk to.

3. Determine an approach that will resonate with the audience

Just saying, “we miss you,” is not enough anymore. Brands are starting to use this type of sentiment in emails more frequently than they once did, which can water-down the impact it has on a recipient when seen in the inbox.

This is where the knowledge of your brand and your customer must be leveraged heavily. Is there a seasonality that needs to be considered? Is the competition fierce and loyalty low? What drives the desired behaviour? Understanding any of these or countless other contributing factors will help you achieve success with your reengagement programme.

4. Craft and test a solid subject line

It is true that if the customer has been inactive in email, driving reengagement via email may not be the most successful way to go. But one crucial success factor is the strategy, approach and testing of your subject line. You need to give the recipient something to get excited about, a few carefully crafted words that will grab their attention in an over-crowded inbox and ultimately drive engagement.

Testing here is very important. Small nuances in the subject line could drive a significant lift in programme performance such as including the phrase “valued customer” versus not. The power of the pen continues to exist – and creating standout subject lines is a great place to apply that power.

5. Establish metrics and KPIs for success measurement

There is no way to tell how well your programme is performing if you do not have a baseline with which to measure the performance against. Define your hypothesis and the long- term goal of the programme first, and then make sure the metrics you need to prove your theory are attainable. For example, maybe you want to drive incremental purchase behaviour from 30% of a previously inactive audience. In order to prove you’ve achieved this, you need to have the data available. So keep it realistic and make sure that what you are trying to accomplish is a goal that your organisation as a whole can get behind and support.


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