Re-Engaging Inactive Subscribers: The Need for Personalization

Every transactional email list has them. The subscribers who don’t open, don’t click and don’t buy. When your job is to get subscribers to do those things, it’s easy to get frustrated. Indeed, many marketers quarantine inactive subscribers from their more engaged audiences until they figure out what to do with the dormant ones. Too often, this takes longer than it should, which results in lost revenue, engagement and eventually customers.

Inactive subscribers represent a wealth of opportunity in terms of both engagement and revenue. If you can discover how best to re-engage them in such a way that you secure not only their near-term engagement but also their loyalty, you clearly stand to benefit.

Common Approaches to Re-Engaging Inactive Subscribers

There is no shortage of advice out there for re-engaging sleepy subscribers. Here are a few of the most common approaches:

1. Defining inactive subscribers
Who qualifies as inactive? Subscribers who have opened and clicked but not purchased? Or those who have neither opened, clicked nor purchased? Both? After which period of time does a subscriber become inactive?

RFM analysis can be used to segment subscribers according to their engagement, which will help you identify the most and least active subscribers.

2. List cleaning and upkeep
It’s important to remove old, abandoned emails or those that constantly bounce from lists as this helps to keep data clean and prevent your emails as being marked as spam by filters and ISPs.

3. Examining past behaviour
Reviewing the historical actions of inactives – clicks, opens, purchases, etc – can help you determine which offers and messaging inactive subscribers are most likely to find compelling. For example, if people originally signed up for your list because they were interested in shoes but keep getting messages about bags, which don’t interest them, they’ll be less inclined to engage with your emails.

The Limits of Conventional Wisdom

The above methods are familiar to seasoned marketers, which probably means these methods A) work well enough; B) are being used by most to some degree; and C) aren’t likely to produce dramatic improvements or sharp differentiation.

Defining who qualifies as inactive and cleaning such subscribers from lists is of course necessary; however, these methods only serve to identify inactive subscribers rather than determine how they can be re-engaged. Similarly, method three — aligning offers and messaging with subscriber interest — can improve engagement, but isn’t without its limitations.

Aligning outreach with subscriber interest will likely involve some manner of segmentation. And segmentation can help you achieve clearer measurement, tailor your messaging more precisely and reduce unsubscribes. Yet many of the big improvements yielded by segmentation are illusory. This is because segmentation simply removes the people who would not have engaged with the campaign in question anyway. The improvement in engagement reflects the interest of those people who were going to respond.

For example, if you send out an email promoting shoes to a group of people, some of which are interested in shoes and others which not interested in shoes, the engagement you receive on that email would reflect the aggregate interest of both groups. If you send an email promoting shoes to only the people that like shoes, that email would receive higher engagement. Conversely, if you send an email promoting shoes to people that are not interested in shoes, you would receive lower engagement.

In order to move the needle forward for both of these groups, you need to figure out what content and offers will interest them beyond that which you already know.

Identifying Reactivation Points in the Customer Journey

Customer journey mapping and optimization is a form of personalization that allows marketers to increase near-term engagement while bettering their relationships with customers over the long term. What is a customer journey? At Coherent Path, we define a customer journey as the trajectory along which a customer moves through your product, content and transactional space. If you know the trajectory of a given customer through this space, you can determine which products intersect with that trajectory.

While inactive subscribers may be stalled on their journeys, those journeys still cross paths with various products if one extrapolates those journeys forward in time. By offering such items, you can pull them forward along their path and re-engage them. And by consistently offering subscribers the content and products that interest them, you can gradually earn their loyalty.

But what about subscribers for which there is little data? After all, this is a common issue with low-activity subscribers. At Coherent Path, we look at subscribers that are similar to the inactives in various ways — age, gender, past purchases — and infer the former’s journeys from the latter’s. As data on the low-activity subscribers builds up, we can then map out and optimize their own journeys and use the insight to inform outreach with them.

The Takeaway

Reactivating inactive subscribers is a worthwhile endeavor. Existing best practices for doing so are good guidelines–but limited. Customer journey optimization is a powerful form of personalization that allows you to discern the products and content that are most likely to inspire engagement among inactive subscribers.

Download: A Closer Look at the Science Behind Coherent Path