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Why every email you send is a reactivation message

Why every email you send is a reactivation message

Keeping your email subscribers engaged over the long-haul is one of the biggest challenges for email marketers. Inevitably opens, clicks and transactions tail off over time as the initial novelty of joining your list starts to wane, and acquiring new subscribers can be costly. That’s why reactivation programs have long been employed to try and reduce long-term subscriber apathy and ultimately, list churn.

They take a number of different approaches, from the bold ultimatums aimed at keeping mailing lists lean and mean click now, or you’re off the list through to softer did we do something wrong? Messages which offer a survey, discount or other incentive to tempt people back. There are a host of other factors, too. Do you trigger the reactivation program based on non-opening, non-clicking, or not transacting? Does it kick in after x number of emails ignored or after a fixed time-frame such as 6 months? How many emails will be sent? Do you need to test? Is your list big enough to make it worthwhile? And what happens to subscribers who do not react to the engagement program? A word of warning: reducing the send frequency to inactives can have the opposite effect to the one intended, subscribers can’t be reactivated by an email they don’t receive.

Even after considering all of these factors, traditional programs tend to reactivate only a tiny percentage of inactive subscribers. They can only be deployed sporadically, at 3 or 6 month intervals and ignore early signs of disengagement, waiting until a long period of inactivity has set in, but it needn’t be that way. Look at the performance of your campaigns in a slightly different way and you can reactivate your customers with every send.

Focus on customers not campaigns

If an email newsletter has an average open rate of 21% over 5 sends, does that mean that only 21% of the database has engaged over that time? It is far more likely that there is a group of subscribers that opens every email, a group that never opens and everyone else sits somewhere in between. By measuring reach as a portion of opens for each mailing, you can split the openers/clickers on each campaign into first-time vs repeat engagers over a given period. And that’ll tell you whether the bulk of your opens and clicks are driven by those that are already engaged or by those who haven’t opened or clicked for a while. Openers by mailing split into new and previous openers

The chart shows the volume of opens on 18 mailings sent in a 12 month period. We’ve divided each bar into those who opened for the first time in that time-period versus those who have opened already in that time. That’s why the first bar is 100% because everyone who opened the email did so for the first time in that 12-month period.

The goal should be to increase both the light green bar (previous or repeat openers) AND the dark green bar (new openers)! But looked at in this way, every non-opener is actually an opted-in prospect and every time a customer opens for the first time in the period they have been reactivated.

Stop guessing – let your customers tell you how they want to be re-activated

For an email program with consistent content, a stable mailing list and regular send frequency, the relationship between the previous openers and new openers follows a classic long tail shape. If there is a lot of variation in the open volume this can also be viewed as percentages of open volume to make comparing mailings easier.

Percentage of openers by mailing split by new and previous openers

Spotting mailings that divert from this smooth line allows you to identify tactics that were effective at getting non-openers to open for the first time, or tactics that made past openers open again. This chart can be drawn up and analyzed for opens or clicks; even better, compare the two to get a really detailed picture of what’s happening.

It’s easy to see how useful this is when thinking about how to engage someone that hasn’t opened in a while. When you want to drive opens from long-term non-openers, think less about email content, and more about contact strategy, cross-channel tactics and the email subject line.

So, look at those mailings that cause the ‘new openers’ section of each bar to push above the red trend line. What was the subject line and how did it differ from the rest? What other factors might be responsible? For example, we have found that using ‘free delivery’ in the subject line tends to be very effective at driving repeat purchases but has little effect in reactivating subscribers.

Draw up some hypotheses and test these to see if you can reproduce the result. If you can, you’re well on the way to reducing list churn and putting the traditional resource-heavy reactivation campaign on the back-burner.

Last updated: Oct 17, 2016


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