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GUEST COMMENT How retailers can avoid subscriber ‘death’

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While some marketers preach to focus on the living – not the dead – when it comes to email marketing contacts, if you can prevent them from dying in the first place then these contacts remain commercially viable.

Yes, reactivation campaigns are undoubtedly a great way of getting back in touch with customers or potential clients who have, for one reason or another, slipped off the radar, but identifying these reasons are key for marketers. Understanding such causes can really help marketers avoid disengagement and losing touch with contacts in the first place – often reinvigorating users and prolonging their ‘life’.

Read on for some of the top reasons subscribers become inactive, including top tips on how to avoid it happening, and how going multichannel can help.

Explain what you’re sending & send it

When someone subscribes or signs up to receive communications from a brand they need to be clear on precisely what they’re signing up to. Best practice dictates they should not instantly start receiving emails that are completely irrelevant to the thing which persuaded them to sign up in the first place. This is likely to annoy them – which is the last thing you want.

Make sure you have set expectations at the point of email collection and you have communicated to the subscriber what they have signed up for in your welcome programme. Also stick to the plan – deliver what you promised the subscriber at opt-in in terms of both content and frequency.

How many is too many?

While people like hearing from brands in which they are interested, no one likes to be peppered (or even ‘spammed’!) with countless messages. A recent Marketing Sherpa report found that the top reason customers unsubscribe from your email is because they just get too many emails in general (26%) and the third-most frequent response was “I receive too many emails from this company specifically” (19%).

Often frequency can be a huge turn off regardless of how pertinent and exceptional your content is. This is similar to the previous point about setting expectations – you don’t want to provide contacts with something different from what they’re expecting. Consider including a frequency option during the sign up process. Or use a preference centre to enable contacts to easily alter frequency, as well as select relevant content topics. Different people are likely to have different preferences after all.

The key point is to ask subscribers how often they like to be emailed and honour that commitment. Ensure you send at the time the subscriber is more likely to open.

Personalise accurately

Modern consumers demand a relevant and positive experience from brands. This also applies to your communications. If you’re not providing something that is relevant to them and their needs, chances are they’re not going to engage – especially if your competitors have got there first. Personalisation is a broad topic that can range from first names, to dynamic content with specific offers or creatives, depending on the information known about the recipient.

As marketers you should be tailoring your offerings to suit each customer or customer segment. Of course, this depends on the strength and quality of your data and your ability to create reliable segments (but that’s a whole white paper topic in itself!).

However, personalising inaccurately can sometimes be worse than not personalising at all. For example, imagine receiving an email addressed to someone else – what are you going to think of that brand?

Ensure you use what you know about your subscribers to tailor content, and drop in the most relevant content. Another tip is to try using surveys to understand how your subscribers perceive your emails. Finally, test and test again – both content and copy – to check how each section of the email is performing.

Incorrect email address?

The quality of your data is really important. It’s not just about verifying that an email address is valid, but most importantly, it’s about making sure the customer hasn’t made a mistake when subscribing.

Of course you’ve followed best practice and used a double opt-in, but do you also use an email verification tool to clean your data at point of capture as well as understand if the address is active?

Other factors to inactivity

There are of course a whole range of factors which contribute to contacts dropping off the radar. Being aware of these will help you refine your strategy to ensure you are able to pick up on those factors before they occur. It’s almost impossible to predict them all but here are a few: Loss of interest; emails have become irrelevant; job change – if it’s B2B then a simple job change could mean the message, service and product are completely irrelevant; and email address change – sometimes emails change – if you cannot get the new one then an unused address is not going to engage much.

Going cross-channel

Before embarking on reactivation programmes, first consider the channels being used.

Cross-channel marketing is an opportunity to increase reactivation rates. If a subscriber has stopped engaging with email, then it is highly likely that they may not engage with any reactivation email campaign. In fact using the email channel persistently to dis-engagers can ultimately harm your sender reputation. This problem can be mitigated by adopting a cross-channel strategy, whereby targeted and relevant messages are sent to the customer in channels that they are engaged in.

Consider the objectives. If the aim is to increase conversion, make sure the email with the biggest offer is sent rather than a birthday email, for example. If it is the case of improving data quality or loyalty, ensure to keep the birthday email at the top of your list. There are a number of ways in which cross-channel interactions can be achieved:

Mobile – Reaching out to consumers via SMS (if opted in) is a very powerful tool. Ask users to update their preference (frequency and channel), and deliver what you promise. In addition, triggered geo-fencing allows marketers to intercept consumers as they pass stores using push notifications. A tremendously relevant message should be used to create excitement and encourage the user in-store to make a purchase. This might be a good idea to check the validity of your dormant addresses.


Leading data providers can match cookies, email and IP addresses to display highly targeted advertising on websites. This technique can be extremely effective, especially when used on the homepage of a website.


Both Twitter and Facebook allow advertisers to upload lists of users securely to their platforms using their email address as a common theme. This allows advertisers to find their existing customers on Facebook or Twitter. Once this match is made there are many advertising opportunities via each individual platform. Best practice always recommends segmentation of this audience before upload for better targeting. One recent luxury retailer proved that when customers were split by response rate they experienced a 350% increase in sales, using a cross channel/re-engagement approach.

In addition, a feature that Facebook added recently is the ability to add a Facebook pixel on an advertisers site, which when a customer visits their page will automatically place them into an audience for targeting on Facebook. This is extremely powerful as users may have visited the page via their desktop, but are now targetable on their mobile device as well thanks to the insight that Facebook provides. This is a great tool for re-activation, especially when they are unresponsive through email and don’t convert when onsite. This re-engagement option can help to drive users into physical stores with mobile only targeting in store locations.

Death is inevitable

Keeping customers engaged relies on two critical things: Getting the right sort of customers in the first place; and saying relevant things to them ongoing.

It all comes down to giving your prospects as good an experience as possible. If they’re not engaging because they’re not interested in what you provide then you should try to understand why they aren’t and what they are interested in. However, like taxes, death is inevitable, so your last resort may be to stop emailing contacts if they fail to engage with your brand after a significant period of time – and, of course, once you’ve tried a cross-channel marketing approach.

Judd Marcello is executive vice president, global marketing at Cheetah Digital

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