Tackling your list inactivity can deliver other benefits besides reducing your exposure to CASL violations:

  • Your messages will reach more people who are likely to open and act on them. This drives better results, such as more conversions, higher customer retention and better brand awareness.
  • Look for real subscriber list growth. You aren’t just replacing lost subscribers.
  • You’ll reduce your risk of emailing to dead addresses, which often get turned into “spamtraps,” or addresses that ISPs and blacklist services use to hunt down spammers.

Tracking non-responding subscribers by their email activity is a start, but on its own is not an accurate way to identify your sleepers.

Some inactives don’t view images (thus not recording an open). Others use your emails to shop in other channels (thus, no clicks). A recency-frequency-monetary model incorporates factors beyond email activity.

If you can’t tie purchase or browse activity to email yet, then choose a frequency cutoff that fits your business model. If you sell seasonal products or services, or those with a long consideration cycle (fine jewelry, cars, luxury vacations), you can give your customers a little more slack than deal-of-the-day marketers.

1. Build a win-back initiative into your regular email program.

Email activity can drop off within just a week or so after opt-in. So, don’t wait for six months before launching a stand-along win-back program. Start watching for obvious signs (no opens or clicks) from the first day after opt-in.

Create a separate track for these subscribers. Set up a series of triggered emails with value propositions designed to get the customer to act, such as sending a survey about potential problems, showing the subscriber how to create an account or set up email preferences or offering a special incentive. Move responders to your regular email program as they begin to click.

2. Change the circumstances that encourage subscribers to go inactive.

Along with early intervention, this can be your most effective weapon against inactivity. Below are some tactics that other marketers have used successfully:

  • Use only opt-in to attract subscribers who really do want to hear from you.
  • Link to your preference and email-update page in every email message.
  • Make email address updating as easy as possible.
  • Allow subscribers to turn off emails for a while or to reduce frequency.
  • Audit your emails to determine whether they continue to deliver the value proposition you described at opt-in.
  • Add a set of segmented or triggered messages, which reflect subscriber data or behavior, to your regular broadcast program.

3. Use ECOA to reach out to lost subscribers.

Conventional wisdom holds that 25% to 30% of your email list includes obsolete or abandoned addresses. These numbers likely are higher now that half or more of email users are checking messages on their smartphones.

Why? Because many users are switching to their phones’ email providers (me.com or mac.com for iPhone users, Gmail for Android users). This makes Email Change of Address more crucial than ever.

A traditional win-back program might reactivate 3% to 5% of your inactive database. An ECOA program can bring back 5% to 15% of customers who either abandoned their email addresses in your database or just don’t check those accounts anymore.

No matter which strategy you follow, the key is not to wait too long before beginning. The longer you wait, the more inactive addresses pile up in your database and the harder you’ll have to work to achieve true list growth and stability.

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