Competing for subscribers’ engagement in the email inbox is something all businesses struggle with, and losing subscriber engagement is inevitable.
The good news is that it’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to re-engage dormant subscribers than it is to acquire new ones. In this blog we’ll talk about how to identify inactivity, why subscribers become disengaged, and seven strategies to engage inactive subscribers.
What does an inactive subscriber look like?
A business will define subscriber inactivity in its own way, and will usually recognize different tiers of inactivity. Segmenting inactive subscribers by their level of disengagement will help you to plan effective and relevant re-engagement strategies.
Actions that indicate poor subscriber engagement:
Emails aren’t being opened
High bounce rate
High unsubscribe rate
Examples of subscriber segments where engagement can be ramped up:
Subscribers who are not yet customers/have never purchased a product but read your emails and consume your website content
Subscribers who have made a purchase in the past but have not engaged with your emails or website in a while
Subscribers who have entered their email address to access a resource or enter a competition, but have not engaged with your emails since
Poor email engagement can affect sender reputation (IP/domain reputation) which can hurt email deliverability (the likelihood your emails will land in the inbox in the future), so identifying and addressing it is crucial. Learn everything you need to know about email deliverability by downloading Ortto’s ebook: The guide to email deliverability.
Why do subscribers become inactive?
There are many reasons a subscriber may become inactive. Let’s look at a few.
1. They no longer have interest in/a need for your product/service
Your product and/or service may have met the subscriber’s needs, or they subscribed based on a seasonal trend that is no longer relevant to them.
2. Your customer had a bad experience with your brand or your product didn’t meet their expectations
A customer has had a bad experience with your brand or it didn’t meet expectations, so you have lost their loyalty. In this case, you could ask them to complete a NPS or CSAT survey and, depending on their answer, your customer support team could reach out to them to remedy the situation.
3. The lead magnet did not bring in the right subscribers
There was a lack of strategy around acquiring subscribers or a disconnect between your brand and the lead magnet. For example, competitions and promotions may attract a lot of signups, but once the subscriber has accessed the free source or bagged the freebie, they may have no interest in your brand.
Or, the email content did not align to the lead magnet and did not meet expectations. An example: a B2B business uses an ebook as a lead magnet to attract subscribers, but the email content that follows is low-quality, sales-focused, and not relevant to the ebook topic.
4. Your email content is not relevant to them
You have not considered who, what, when, and why in your email strategy, meaning subscribers receive irrelevant and unfocused content that is not personalized to their interests. You may also be sending too many emails.
Segment your subscriber audiences and build strategies that consider email cadence and the needs of your audiences.
5. The email content is low quality or ‘spammy’
One of the biggest reasons people unsubscribe from or delete emails is because they are too ‘spammy’; they aren’t human. Maybe they include spam words, or the content is too long, or there’s a bad image/text ratio, or they include harmful links. Or maybe the emails are too sales-focused and lack authenticity. People can spot a spam email a mile off, and if yours doesn’t look professional and isn’t respectful, it may as well be spam.
6. They didn’t sign up for your newsletter – or they didn’t mean to
Maybe the subscriber is confused as to why they are receiving emails from you, because a) they didn’t mean to sign up; or b) they actually didn’t sign up.
There are a lot of black-hat subscriber acquisition practices out there, including:
Purchasing lists of addresses
Scraping addresses off of the internet, e.g. from a conference attendee list
Referral benefit programs requesting subscribers to provide a friend/colleague's address for discounts, etc.
Acquiring through opt-out instead of opt-in practices (Opt-out is when, on a form, the box to consent to receive marketing communications is pre-ticked and the individual has to explicitly untick it to opt out. Opt-in is where the form does not assume consent and the individual must tick the box to subscribe.)
Ultimately, these practices don’t get clear consent from the subscriber, which could cause frustration and, if you’re unlucky, your emails being directed straight to the spam folder (the proverbial kiss of death for emails).
Employ good subscriber acquisition by sending new subscribers a Welcome Email that asks them to confirm their subscription and outline what they should expect to receive. Also ensure you empower subscribers with autonomy over their own subscription by giving them clear access to a Preference Center.
7. Your emails are not delivering
There could be technical issues that are hindering your email deliverability, meaning your emails are not landing in your subscribers’ inboxes. For example, if you’re sending emails to high-risk providers like banks and governments that have security limitations around receiving external mail, you may find that your emails won’t deliver. Always consider the needs of your recipients. Read our ebook on email deliverability to find out more about technical email issues.
Segment your subscribers based on their interests (i.e. a type of product or a content type) and demographic and firmographic data to create audiences. This is especially important if you’re a company with a large variety of products or features, as you may want to ask subscribers about their preference (e.g. women’s clothing, men’s clothing, homewares, etc.) and create audiences based on those preferences so subscribers receive content they’re interested in.
You can also segment by the tiers of inactivity mentioned earlier, e.g. subscribers who have never purchased anything from you in the past but have signed up to your newsletters, or those subscribers who have purchased from you in the past, but haven’t in a while. For example, subscribers who are not customers could receive email content that is focused on building brand awareness and showcasing the product offering in useful, how-to content, whereas a customer who has not purchased in a while may resonate more with information around deals, trends, and product/feature updates.
Subscriber activity will wane if emails are not relevant or personalized. Once you’ve segmented your subscribers you can build email sequences for different audiences that speak to their interests and what you know about them (i.e. their job title or industry they work in) to increase the likelihood that they will find the email relevant.
For example, a B2B SaaS that sells HR software to businesses may segment their subscriber list using firmographic data like job title, so that email content about business finances gets sent to payroll professionals and CFOs, whereas recruitment tips and tricks get sent to recruitment specialists.
Subscribers that have purchased a product from you before but have been dormant for a while are low-hanging fruit, because you can simply show them products that are similar to what they have previously shown interest in.
Subject lines are the gateway to your email content. If you have a bad subject line (e.g. it’s too long, it doesn’t intrigue, etc.), chances are your email will not be opened. More likely it won’t even be seen, as email inboxes are overflowing with messages competing for eyeballs.
Ortto’s subject line AI tool not only generates subject line suggestions based on AI, but it predicts the open rate, meaning you can ensure your emails will be opened.
If your subscriber engagement is dropping, it may have something to do with your email content.
First, ensure your emails aren’t too sales-focused. If subscribers always feel like they’re getting the hard sell, they will tire of you. Reduce unsubscribe rate by applying the 80/20 method, whereby 80% of your emails are engaging, educational and informative (they include links to blog posts, invitations to webinars, free resources, how-to content, etc.), and 20% are sales-focused. This way, you will nurture your subscribers down the sales funnel so they are more likely to convert.
Ortto users can set up nurture playbooks and journeys easily. Below is an example of a nurture playbook where subscribers are sent engaging, educational content at a regular cadence.
Speaking of cadence, it’s worth reassessing the cadence of your emails, as too frequent could be off-putting, but too infrequent could risk losing relevance. If you send a newsletter once a week but it’s not getting much engagement, perhaps trial a monthly send in which you can include more quality content and create hype.
Experiment by offering subscribers discount codes and special offers, e.g. 10% off their next purchase or free shipping. This may be effective for new subscribers who aren’t yet fully acquainted with your brand or product/service, and who may respond well to a nudge like a discount code.
You could also offer access to free resources, such as guides, ebooks, learning materials, checklists, etc. to build brand awareness and loyalty.
Subscribers whose interest in your brand has simply fizzled over time may appreciate being told about new products/features, initiatives your brand is involved with, what the company has been up to, and any changes that are relevant to the subscriber. For example, if you’ve partnered with a charity and are working on some exciting projects, shout about that, because it could reignite some brand awareness from your subscriber list.
If you can’t re-engage subscribers, cut your losses and let them go. Without a process for maintaining your lists (organizing, auditing, and clearing out subscribers whose inactivity will lead to poor sender reputation) you will harm your email deliverability.
Good list management practices should include a re-engagement attempt (like the strategies listed above) and sunsetting unengaged addresses before they reach the 12-month mark. This way, you’ll ensure that the majority of your subscriber list is worth contacting.
There are many reasons why email subscribers lose interest in a brand – you have probably lost interest in brands yourself – but inactivity is not a lost cause. Employ the strategies listed above to make sure your emails are personalized, targeted, relevant, and interesting, and you’ll be set to experience a boost in engagement. And for those subscribers that just aren’t getting onboard with your content, there’s no shame in removing them from your list.
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