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Guest Comment: How to re-engage your email inactives

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Just 30 days after a consumer signs up, marketers can experience a drop in engagement averaging as much as 20 per cent. After six months, the drop can be even steeper, rising to an average of 50 per cent. Given the time and expense that is spent on acquiring new contacts, what strategies can marketers use to reengage these segments?

The very first thing to do before considering tactics for inactive segments is to define exactly what is meant by 'inactive'.

We live in a multi-channel world where consumers are able to connect with you by many different mediums. Any definition should therefore be informed by factors beyond an individual's lack of interaction with any one single channel. A customer or prospect may well be very active on other channels and simply choosing not to engage with you via email. It is essential to take a holistic view — activity from customers or prospects on other channels should have a direct bearing on your email tactics.

When does inactivity become 'inactive'?

The first question to consider is: What period of time does a recipient have to be inactive before you officially classify them as 'inactive'? One company's 'inactive' can be another's 'active'.

The key criteria for your decision should be an understanding of where a customer is in the buying cycle. If it typically takes your customers 30 days to make a purchase then your definition of inactive will be substantially different from a company that has a buying cycle of 60 days. It may also be appropriate to consider how many different spells of inactivity are required before you officially categorise someone.

On a more technical level, be sure that everyone in your team knows what inactive means to your organisation. Not opened? Not clicked? Not purchased? Most important, though, be sure to double check that the emails are actually being delivered in the first place! With careful planning and understanding, it is always possible to predict and prevent this sort of inactive beforehand.

Change email content for the inactive segment

Re-engaging inactive customers presents a very convenient opportunity to try new content tactics, such as adding interactive elements or experimenting with a new format. The first thing you should do, however, is test new subject lines — any other changes will be irrelevant if recipients don't open the mail in the first place.

If something new manages to rekindle the interest of a certain percentage of inactive customers, it may be worth testing it against the rest of your email list. Of course, if these changes have no impact, there's no down side as you haven't exposed your most faithful and profitable customers to the changes.

Invite inactive customers to update their profile

If an inactive customer hasn't evaluated her profile in a while, it could well be the reason your emails have gone unnoticed. Send an email that encourages inactive customers to review their profile information. Let them know that updating profiles will help you deliver more relevant email. It's an easy and inexpensive way to re-engage inactive customers with your brand.

Experiment with email test streams and zero frequency

Another option is to suppress the inactive customer list and re-introduce it when a new email communication stream with a compelling offer goes live.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and inactive customers may well be apt to open or click on email when they realise they haven't heard from you in a while.

One test that we conducted recently showed that eight to nine percent of inactive customers opened or clicked on an email after they were reintroduced into the communication stream.

Survey customers about current email content

It may sound simple but the most effective ideas often are. An email survey to inactive customers can help determine the root of the problem.

Did the emails they were receiving not meet the customer's expectations? Was the content not relevant to their interests? Were they receiving emails too often or too infrequently? The answers you receive may allow you to engage inactive customers with an alternative program, or at least understand what improvements or changes need to be made to current email programmes.

Any of these re-activation programmes can be implemented as a trigger simply by targeting segments that have been inactive for a year, six months, or three months — the earlier the better.

As said earlier though, never forget that we live in a multichannel world. If you find that none of these tactics is working, look to contact the individual on another channel — there's no point in fretting or wasting time if you can quickly determine whether an address is incorrect or inactive.

• Simone Barratt is the managing director of e-Dialog International, a leading provider of email marketing and database technologies, products, strategies, and services for permission-based email marketers.

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