Even the largest mailing list can die out in several years if left unattended. According to Marketing Sherpa, businesses lose a fourth of their email list volume every year.

If you want to reduce subscribers churn and let your mailing list grow, you need to start managing it correctly. The first stop is dealing with disengaged subscribers.

Drop in engagement = Poor Reputation = Lower Deliverability

The correlation between the lower engagement levels and lower deliverability seems pretty straightforward - a plummeting number of interactions is a red flag for any reputable ESP, so they take immediate action by decreasing the inbox placement rate, further lowering your engagement.

Although, that’s not the end of it. Not dealing with disengaged subscribers can hurt you even more than you think. Over time, ISPs take a note of inactive subscribers and reclaim the accounts to recycle them or convert them into spam traps. If any of these accounts are still on your mailing list and regularly receive campaigns from you, it won’t take long before your address gets flagged as spam.

So, re-engaging isn’t a mere ‘should-do’ practice, but rather a ‘must-do’ one. Re-engagement activities are essential for spotting the signs of email lists decay early and prevent it from happening.

What Is a Re-Engagement Email Campaign?

A re-engagement email campaign is an email campaign that consists of a single email or a sequence of emails aimed at bringing back inactive subscribers and increasing subscriber email engagement.

Re-engagement campaigns are an integral part of mailing list management, and one of the most crucial processes for email marketing success.

Fun Fact. Re-engagement email campaigns go by a lot of different names, the most bizarre one being ‘the divine jackfruit’ of dead email lists.

There are three main categories of re-engagement emails:

  • Win-back emails.
    These are aimed at the people who haven’t been opening your emails for a while now, so you’re no longer sure whether they’re interested in your offers at all. A win-back email is the OG re-engagement email that allows you to spot your dormant subscribers and either bring them back to live or get rid of them. The most common forms of win-back emails are A Friendly Reminder Email, We Miss You Email, Active Incentive Email, Last Chance Email, Good-Bye Email.
  • Reactivation emails.
    This category of re-engagement emails seek one goal - to motivate the mailing list subscribers to take the action needed to move them further down the sales funnel. These encourage subscribers to spend more time engaging with the website to be able to make a purchasing decision. Therefore, reactivation emails often include Abandoned Cart Emails, “Latest Offer” Email, The Recommendation Email, Feedback Email, Survey Email and others.
  • Customer appreciation emails.
    Unlike the previous two categories, these re-engagement emails are commonly used to communicate with warm leads. Businesses send out customer appreciation emails to keep their subscribers happy and show them that they matter. These emails help the business to stay connected with their customers by  reinforcing the relationships and promptly re-engaging customers in times when they only start to lose interest in the brand. The formats of these emails vary, with the most popular ones being Thank You Email, Welcome Email, Special Day Email, Holiday Email, Milestone Email, Exclusive Offer Email, Birthday Email and Gratitude Email.

All of the aforementioned types of re-engagement emails work towards achieving the same goal - to keep your email list subscribers active and engaged. However, it’s not the only advantage of sending them.

Re-engagement emails are a part of a broader email marketing strategy, which means they have a whole array of additional benefits:

  • Push contacts to finalise the deal;
  • Remind the recipient of why they signed;
  • Accentuate the value of the brand;
  • Re-open a conversation with prospects;
  • Improve customer loyalty;
  • Reinforce brand reputation;
  • Improve email deliverability;
  • Increase open rates and CTR;
  • Generate more sales.

You can only benefit from sending out a win-back campaign if it’s timely and relevant. Therefore, the next question on our agenda is...

When Do You Need a Win-Back Email Campaign?

Determining whether it’s time to send out a re-engagement email yet, is a sticky one, my friend. There isn’t a set number of days you need to wait before you mark your mailing list subscribers as disengaged recipients and can proceed with your campaign. There are lots of different factors that affect that decision:

  • Emailing frequency. Subscriber disengagement is an ongoing trend and not a single occurrence. You need to have enough data to make assumptions about how many subscribers aren’t as interested in your messages as they used to be. If you send out just one email a month, you can’t automatically mark everyone who hasn’t opened it as the disengaged subscriber. Alternatively, if you’re emailing your subscribers several times a week, and some of them haven’t interacted with your emails in a month, this is a red flag.
‘For a brand sending bi-weekly emails, the inactivity period might be 3 months and for a brand with monthly email sending schedule, the inactivity period might be 6 months or a year.’
  • Standard email marketing metrics. It’s important you track your email campaigns’ performance to be able to spot inconsistencies early. Ideally, you should be able to have a record for every contact on your mailing list to see individual interactions dynamic. The easiest way to streamline this process is to invest in a smart CRM with email-tracking features, NetHunt CRM per se.
  • Timing. It also matters when you send your emails. If you’ve reached out a bunch during the holiday season but didn’t receive the expected response, it’s still too early to start getting alarmed. Chances are, a good portion of your subscribers are OOO. We also have a templates for effective out-of-office message templates.

Besides, you also need to decide who you determine as inactive subscribers as your email re-engagement strategy will vary depending on whether your approach is customer-centric or subscriber-centric:

  • A customer-centric approach considers inactive the subscribers that are opening your emails, clicking on the CTAs but haven’t purchased anything in a while. The end goal of this approach is to motivate the subscriber to finally make a purchasing decision. The need for a re-engagement campaign is determined by the last order.
  • A subscriber-centric approach draws the line between active and inactive subscribers based on whether or not they open your emails. The end goal of this approach is to motivate the subscriber to open the emails, change their mailing preferences or (last straw) unsubscribe from your mailing list. The need for a re-engagement campaign is determined by the last open.

Once you’re all set with the approach you’re willing to take, you also need to determine how long is too long, the actual period of time after which it’s appropriate to start your re-engagement email campaign.

There isn’t a set one-size-fits-all standard time as it varies from industry to industry. That’s why you should take alternative signals into consideration:

  • For a subscriber-centric approach, the focus should be on the disengaged subscribers that haven’t opened 5-10 of your previous emails.
  • For a customer-centric approach, the baseline condition is based on the order value. If someone made high-order purchases in the past and went inactive, they are more relevant to return compared to those who made only a couple of small purchases in the past.

How to Craft an Effective Re-Engagement Campaign

As soon as you notice the needs for a re-engagement campaign, you need to start designing one. Every minute counts, so you better get down to work.

Step 1: Understand the Reasons of Subscribers’ Disengagement

The first step you need to take when designing your perfect win-back campaign is to determine the cause of subscriber disengagement. There are numerous reasons that can lead to loss of interest in email list subscribers, but you need to know for sure what’s the issue. Finding out the root of your problem gives you a chance to fix it and, therefore, win back your inactive subscribers.

According to a study conducted by Uplers, the most common reasons for subscriber disengagement are:

  • Overload of information with overdose of emails - even one too many can turn out to be too much;
  • Deceptive subject lines with no real value in the offer - not only is it unfair towards your subscribers, but it’s also illegal;
  • Confusing design without proper hierarchy;
  • Not optimised for mobile;
  • Repetitive or irrelevant content;
  • Signed up for one time offer;
  • Prefer obtaining information from alternative source;
  • Change of circumstances like job or re-location.

Step 2: Segment the Disengaged Subscribers

There are lots of different types of subscribers that require your immediate attention:

  • Lost interest in your brand;
  • Don’t open emails or don’t click on CTAs;
  • Don’t make a purchase;
  • Haven’t finalised previous actions;
  • Are existing customers but have subscriptions expiring soon, etc.

Re-engaging all of them is important for the health of your mailing list. You can’t place more value on one of the types of inactive subscribers and only target them with your actions. At the same time, you can’t necessarily win them all back with a single re-engagement email campaign either. They’re too different to be influenced through the same methods.

You’ll need several different re-engagement email campaigns, each for a different segment.

We’ve already talked about audience segmentation in great detail. Segmentation brings order to all your subsequent action and allows you to provide the required amount of personalisation. If you know exactly who you’re targeting with your win-back email campaign, you’ll know what to include in it.

Some of the most important factors to consider when segmenting your inactive subscribers are:

  1. Recent activity. When was the last time each inactive subscriber opened an email? Clicked a link? Made a purchase? Viewed something on your website? Based on the data about your disengaged subscribers’ actions, you’ll be able to draw a conclusion regarding the intensity of the re-engagement campaign required.
  2. The signup path. Learn where your subscriber came from in the first place. Did they become a subscriber through the landing page or a lead magnet? This information will tell you volumes about why they joined your list in the first place.
  3. Past purchase history. Getting a better understanding of which products a subscriber has purchased can help you provide them with unique and relevant coupons.
  4. General metrics. Finally, if you want to get the most accurate targeting for your win-back campaign, make sure you don’t neglect the standard segmentation stages for your inactive subscribers: on top of everything else, break them up by age, locations, online behavior, gender, and other demographics you’ve collected.

Step 3: Create a One-of-a-Kind Email

Once you know exactly who you’re targeting with your win-back email, it’s time to get down to the most fun part - creating one.

There are several paths you can take when it comes to the body of your email, but regardless of what you choose as your re-engagement strategy, either that be guilt-tripping or flattery, there’s one constant in your narrative - your email’s subject line.

It’s difficult to overestimate the role of subject lines in the overall success of your re-engagement campaign. When re-engaging inactive subscribers, you’re already walking on a very thin ice - there’s no room for mistakes, you can’t risk your re-engagements email not getting opened. It’s essential you get everything right on the first try.

Here are some of the features of the ‘right’ subject line for your re-engagement email:

  • Matches the type of the re-engagement email.
    It’s important for the subject line to consider the type of inactive subscriber that is being contacted. Different types of re-engagement email campaigns vary based on the voice and tone they use.
  • Personalised.
    The best way to convince your disengaged subscribers to open your email is to make the email in question relevant to them. You need to provide them with exactly what they’re looking for and prove it that they’re valuable for you.
  • Stands out from the crowd.
    You need to make sure that your re-engagement email is visible in your inactive subscriber’s inbox. It’s your last chance to attract their attention, so make sure you utilise all the resources available to you. A great way to cut through the overcrowded inboxes is to include relevant and meaningful emojis into your subject line.
  • Uses actionable and/or emotional words.
    You need to establish a connection between your re-engagement email and its recipient.
  • Offers real value.
    There must be an actual incentive for the recipient to open your email. Make sure that your subject line sparks up curiosity.
  • Isn’t bossy or desperate.
    You’re asking, not demanding your disengaged subscribers to come back. In fact, you’re in no position to be bossing around. It’s the opposite - you’re at the mercy of your recipients, so you should avoid the things they could find annoying. At the same time, there’s no need to be begging for a crumb of their attention either. Don’t embarrass yourself, subject lines that sound too desperate are nothing but pathetic and never get clicked on.
  • Not spammy.
    With so much risky stuff going on, you want to check twice for any spam filter triggers you might’ve included in the subject line of your re-engagement email. Get rid of those before they ruin your deliverability completely.

Here are a couple of examples of good subject lines for a re-engagement email campaign:

Good subject lines for a re-engagement email campaign

🔥 NetHunt Pro Tip: Make sure you A/B test your subject lines to find the ones that work best.

Getting the subject right is only half the job done. It’s not enough for your disengaged subscribers to merely open your email. They also need to read them through and take the appropriate action.

To do that, the contents of your email need to match your polished subject line perfectly. You need to deliver exactly what you promised, and more!

We’ve compiled a list of the best re-engagement email copy practices, with real-life win back email campaign examples to illustrate our point.

#1 - Incentivise

Like it or not, we live in a capitalistic society. There’s nothing people love more than a cheeky discount, even if they aren’t particularly interested in the product that’s being discounted. The vast majority of customers lose every bit of rationality as soon as they see those sexy 50% off - such a bargain, why would you miss out on it?!

In fact, it doesn’t even need to be a whopping 50% off. As little as 15% will do. Don’t believe us? Have a look at H&M’s example:

Email campaign example: H&M

#2 - Remind Your Subscribers Why They Joined Your Mailing List In the First Place

How many times have you signed up for an online course because it seemed really cool and useful but quit halfway through? Not sure about you, but I’m guilty as charged. The funny thing is, I don’t abandon courses because I no longer want the knowledge or because it’s too complicated… Usually, the reason for my disengagement is lack of motivation.

This can easily be the case for your subscribers, too. In that case, you should remind them about what made them join your mailing list in the first place. Point out at the value you bring to your subscribers!

A perfect example of this re-engagement email practice is Duolingo. You must’ve seen those memes about the Duolingo owl. But at the end of the day… It was you who chose to start learning a new language.

Email campaign example: Duolingo
C’mon, man, you can learn a literal language just by taking a small 5 minute lesson now! Come back.

#3 - Leverage FOMO

The FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is real!

Sometimes, you shouldn’t focus on telling your disengaged subscribers about what they receive if they stay, but rather provide them with an idea of what they don’t get to experience if they leave.

It can be done in a number of ways. The best real-life examples are Unsplash’s re-engagement campaign and that of Blue Apron.

Email campaign example: Unsplash

Unsplash gives something that you can’t argue with - hard facts. In their win-back email, the company includes stats and figures to show what’s going on on the site while their subscriber is being inactive.

It can be both inspirational and slightly frightening to see these stats - you get an urge to get back on the site immediately to make sure you don’t miss out on any opportunities given to you.

Email campaign example: Blue Apron

Blue Apron takes an alternative path. They don’t cry about the fact that their subscriber is no longer engaged. Instead, Blue Apron sends them an email with big, vibrant photos of some of the delicious recipes that the subscriber was going to be missing out on in the coming weeks.

The only acknowledgement of the subscriber’s inactivity is a sentence above the footer that says “come back and cook with us!”. Blue Apron just lets the basic human instincts do the work.

#4 - Offer a Gift

Discounts are great, but gifts are even better. If your subscribers see they can get something for free simply by staying with you, chances are they will.

The best thing about this method is that you get to decide what kind of gift you want to offer them. It doesn’t have to be something physical, but can be an e-book, access to unique materials or free shipping - you decide.

Email campaign example: gift offer

#5 - Focus On Emotions (For Once, It’s Okay to Guilt-Trip)

Your end goal is to evoke some feelings in your inactive subscribers. Appeal directly to them through their emotions.

You aren’t limited to a single emotion you can target, there’s a whole range of those. Your re-engagement email can focus on happiness and talk about all the nice things you and your subscriber have shared. Alternatively, your copy could be extremely sad, because breakups are sad. Or you could even take a risk and go for an emotion that isn’t directly connected to your and your subscriber’s relationship, but is still strong enough to motivate them to take action. A great example of an emotion like that is nostalgia - it melts your subscribers’ hearts to see the stuff that reminds them of the good old times, and they become more susceptive to the marketing efforts.  

At the end of the day, you can even go as far as guilt tripping. It’s your last opportunity to change the situation, so you might as well turn to mild manipulations for help. Tell your subscribers how much it hurts you to see them leave you, and tell them you thought ‘your bond was strong’. They might reconsider their decision.

The emotion doesn’t have to be just in the language you use. For instance, 9clouds did the job by including a sad doggo into their win-back email. Who could resist that?!

Email campaign example: Clouds

#6 - Gamification + Rewards

It’s vital for your re-engagement campaign to be, well, engaging. There’s nothing that can deal with it better than a game.

A perfect example of a re-engagement email campaign that uses gamification is this one by Grammarly:

Email campaign example: Grammarly

The company makes subscriber disengagement out to be a good thing - it scores you a badge! Now, it’s up to you whether you want to continue collecting badges or still want to opt out from the mailing list.

Here comes the second, bonus trick - a big red button. We, humans, are simple creatures: we see a big red button, and we can’t help but want to press it. Great example of how your CTA can help you seal the deal.

You may also use one of these tips of the emails to get the prospect's attention; it talks about image, video, and text emails.

#7 - Ask Your Subscribers to Be In Control

While adding a visible unsubscribe button can sound counterintuitive, it’s a great re-engagement strategy for what it is. You let your disengaged subscribers feel like their opinion is valued, and they’re given a choice when it comes to their own actions. Besides, according to the GDPR laws, it’s also totally illegal to not have the unsubscribe button. So, if you have to have one regardless, you better make the most of it.

Pair it up with a preferences control centre and give your disengaged an alternative. Perhaps, they don’t want to unsubscribe just yet, but rather want to receive different types of content in their inbox, or wouldn’t mind altering the emailing frequency a tad.

Great example of this technique is demonstrated by Return Path and Refind in their win-back emails.

Email campaign example: Return Path
Email campaign example: Refind

🔥 NetHunt Pro Tip: Always include just one CTA in your win-back email. You don’t want your subscribers to be confused about which action to take.

Step 4: Segment the Re-Engaged, Follow Up With the Rest

Incorporating one (or several) of the methods listed above will definitely win back a portion of your inactive subscribers. However, there still will be some that don’t come back to you immediately.

The trick is, it’s still too early to give up on them. According to research, you should follow up with 3 to 4 emails before you remove someone from your list for good.

How many emails do you send send before removing someone from your list?
Source: ActiveCampaign

The best way to arrange these follow ups is to turn your re-engagement campaign into a drip campaign. A sequence of time- or action-triggered emails is significantly better than a single-send message.

You can try out the following scheme:

We also have another article with effective sales follow-up email templates, check them out!

Step 5: ‘Trim Dead Ends’

If everything else fails, and your subscribers never get back to you… Just part your ways. Goodbyes are sad, but at the end of the day that’s what needs to happen.

You need to remove disengaged subscribers from your mailing list and exclude them from any future email campaigns.

While you do that, make sure you don’t fall back into the vicious cycle of getting more and more inactive subscribers:

  • Revisit the sources that the most of inactive subscribers come from
  • Double-check your opt-in practices are on point, and you aren’t subscribing random people to your mailing list
  • Tweak your welcome campaign and check if you remind them how they signed up

Remember, it costs five times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. So, even if you think that re-engagement strategy is a real pain in the rear, it’s the most cost-effective solution you can find.

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