Client Insights: Tracking Inactive Email Addresses

Your roving reporter had an opportunity to sit down (over email, of course) with several of our clients and ask a series of questions of interest to our readers. This is the second in our series of “Client Insights,” which we hope will provide you with answers to some of your most vexing issues.

Our panelists this month are:

Julie Bridge, Director of Internet Marketing, Indiana Botanic Gardens, Inc.

Steve Dumas, E-commerce Marketing Manager, Ballard Designs

Jessica Fraser Sotelo, Manager, Online Marketing, World Wildlife Fund

FP (FreshPerspectives): Inactive email addresses might just be the most misunderstood and neglected segment of your customer database, often comprising 50% or more of a company’s list. Given that most inactive customers are the result of improper email address registration practices or annual email address churn rates of ~30% per year, it’s not safe to assume that these customers aren’t interested in a relationship anymore. It’s simply that you’ve been leaving messages at email boxes people no longer read. So we asked our panel if they track inactive email addresses (i.e. no opens or click-throughs) and, if so, what steps do they take to re-engage these customers.

Let’s start with Julie Bridge – Julie, I understand that you track inactives at Indiana Botanic Gardens. How do you handle this segment of your database and what steps do you take to try to re-engage them?

Julie: We do track responses and click-throughs. If an email address is dormant for more than 12 months, we send out a short series of “last chance” offers and ask the customer to opt back in if they want to continue to receive our messages. These emails are less promotional and more like letters – we use more text, which gives the emails a better chance of landing in the in-box. For 12+ month non-responders, we mail less often, keeping a close watch on the cost-benefit analysis of messaging these people. After 18 months of dormancy, we suppress these email addresses from our mailings and utilize services to re-gain updated email addresses wherever possible. The customer may opt back in at any time, but we want to avoid emailing to dormant names that might be spam traps.

FP: Steve, does Ballard Designs make it a point to track inactive subscribers? And how do you manage these to maximize your email marketing initiatives?

Steve: We do track inactives. We actually have two inactive segments, one for buyers and one for non-buyers, and treat them slightly differently. In general, we limit the messages to them considerably throughout the year but do not stop mailing them completely. Because those files have a higher bounce rate, we hope to re-engage with those customers through FreshAddress’s ECOA (Email Change of Address) service. For those who don’t bounce, we continually test reengagement techniques to move them from inactive to active.

FP: Jessica, in the case of non-profits, do the same general rules apply? What’s considered best practice at World Wildlife Fund?

Jessica: Non-profit organizations should try as best they can to engage inactive email addresses. With rising costs of postal mailings, communicating with your donors on a regular basis through email can be cost-effective and yields a positive ROI. For non-responders, we test emails with action-oriented subject lines to try to get these subscribers to open the message. I also recommend segmenting your non-responders into a group that you message on a limited basis. Don’t stop messaging them completely, but send them infrequent emails, using your most important messages only.

FP: Inactive email addresses hurt your bottom line, from poor response rates to deliverability issues to lost revenues. With the significant cost of acquiring new customers, it behooves companies to leverage this investment by gaining deliverable email addresses in the first place and keeping these up-to-date over time.

With “25% to 65%” of email databases showing inactivity, the potential returns on re-engaging with these former customers or donors is the difference between being a market leader and an “also ran.” And the longer you wait to do this, the more time you’re giving your competition to bring your customers over to their camp.

Thanks so much to all of you for sharing your insights with us on this important subject.

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