Smart Email Marketers Win the Waiting Game
Some marketers are (way) better than others at holding on to the customer relationships they work so hard to build. In email, the difference is often knowing when to give up on unengaged subscribers and when not to. Win-back campaigns — i.e., efforts to re-engage lapsed or inactive subscribers — are used by many marketers, but few excel at getting the timing right. Those who don't understand their re-engagement window are probably dropping valuable customers.
Return Path recently conducted a research study of the effectiveness of win-back campaigns, and the results were surprising: most marketers were cutting off engaged customers too early, ending relationships and missing out on potential revenue.
The risk of waiting
Being too slow to remove inactive subscribers carries its own risk. Mailbox providers like Outlook and Gmail are increasingly reliant on subscriber engagement to signal whether people want commercial messages. Marketers that send to inactive accounts, or to users who never, ever open their messages risk their mail being delivered as junk or spam. Continuing to send on the hope that long-dormant subscribers will someday re-engage can jeopardize overall inbox placement, potentially interrupting valuable relationships with active subscribers.
3 types of mailers
For win-back campaigns, there's a steep price that comes with not knowing your typical response window. Below are examples of three mailers with different response patterns, showing the range where each can maximize win-back performance.
Mailer A typically sees a short response window. As with other campaigns, about 80 percent of its re-engagement potential converts within 48 hours of a win-back campaign. Another 7 percent to 8 percent re-engage within a week, but responses start to trickle in after that. Mailer A can safely remove nonresponders earlier than most.
Mailer B has a longer response window, usually seeing 68 percent of potential conversion within 48 hours, and then another 15 percent by the seventh day after mailing. Mailer B can wait longer before removing inactives after that because response trails off more slowly.
Mailer C has a prolonged response window. Only 55 percent of its re-engaging subscribers read the email within 48 hours of getting it. Another 20 percent read by the seventh day, and response fades slowly from there over multiple weeks. Mailer C has the trickiest waiting game, but the most to gain from waiting before removing inactive subscribers from its list.
Different mailbox providers, different rules
Every mailbox provider's inbox placement decision making is unique. Some are notoriously quick to take action when they determine that a sender's messages are unwanted. Marketers that outperform the field at maximizing win-back efforts know which mailbox providers give them longer windows of opportunity to re-engage subscribers. Playing the waiting game without this knowledge risks losing at both ends — losing customers too soon at some mailbox providers and endangering inbox placement at others.
Tactics to optimize win-back campaigns
Consider the following strategies when planning your company's win-back campaigns:
- Create a throttling schedule based on the total size of the re-engagement campaign and deploy in smaller quantities to monitor complaints, unsubscribes and unknown users by mailbox providers.
- Once the initial re-engagement campaign has been tested and deployed, create an optimized trigger campaign that can be sent to inactive subscribers once they hit the defined inactivity threshold.
- Send more than one re-engagement email. Test a variety of content and calls to action over a period of weeks — even months — to try and re-engage subscribers.
Be disciplined. Know when your chances of re-engaging subscribers are outweighed by your chances of harming overall inbox placement and say goodbye to inactives.
Tom Sather is the senior director of research at Return Path, an email marketing solution that helps to improve deliverability and email marketing ROI.