“Mother May I?” The Secrets of Re-Permissioning

Scott Geiser of Yum! Brands, Inc., Pilar Bower of Red Door Interactive, Chris Frasier of BlueHornet Networks, and Suzanne Shaughnessy of FreshAddress, Inc., first met to put together their ideas for a panel discussion for email marketers on “re-permissioning your former customers” for the Digital River Globalocity conference in San Diego, Calif., which was held in May.

But as they began talking about their different experiences and roles, the focus started to evolve. It turns out that marketers face varied challenges due to dwindling list size caused by bouncing, dormant or non-responding emails. So it’s no surprise that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy for dealing with these issues. Re-permission campaigns are just one answer to the challenges all marketers face with list attrition and unresponsiveness.

When 35,000 Restaurants Talk, People Listen

Scott Geiser, senior digital analyst with Yum! Brands, described a few of the dilemmas he and his peers grapple with while considering re-engagement.

Yum! Brands is the world’s largest restaurant company in terms of system restaurants with more than 35,000 restaurants in more than 110 countries and territories. Four of their best known brands are KFC, Long John Silver’s, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. They do a number of extremely successful email address acquisition campaigns, often involving coupons. But, according to the graph Geiser created to illustrate the lifecycle of emails, the level of engagement peaks within the 30 to 60 day range. After that, however, the curve plunges and by the 180 day mark a vast majority are considered “inactive.”


Geiser and Chris Frasier, account development manager at BlueHornet, a leading provider of email marketing solutions and subsidiary of Digital River, would like to extend the engagement period for these customers and, accordingly, are exploring new programs to make this happen. While re-engagement strategies for dormant customers are important, they both stressed the need to focus on the reason why you are losing your customers’ attention in the first place.

Pilar Bower, optimization and email strategist with Red Door Interactive, which provides services geared to helping brands connect seamlessly with customers across all digital touch points, has learned to perform a balancing act, helping her clients improve the quality of their lists while keeping their database sizes stable. Both she and Geiser recognize that the goal is keeping the level of engagement high for as many names on your list as possible.

With ISPs (Internet Service Providers) now beginning to track subscriber engagement as a deliverability screen, the customer-focused perspective that Geiser and Bower value will have the added benefit of improving deliverability.

Is It All About the Look and Feel?

Analysts and marketers typically study the lifecycles of their databases, split test program performance, and the deliverability results for different segments of the list to identify segments to try to re-engage email recipients.

But a very important part of the re-engagement campaign is inevitably the look and feel of the email that is sent to the recipient. Bower shared some recent emails she has collected as industry examples, as well as helped her clients design. The subject lines varied, as did the type of creative. “Should You Stay or Should You Go?” asked the subject line for a Chipotle email that offered the recipient a choice of two large buttons marked “In: Click here – we’ll stay in touch” and “Out: Click here – we won’t contact you.”

For Cricket, a mobile phone company, the subject line urged: “We miss you! Last opportunity for great deals from MyCricket.com”. The personalized message went on to say “We noticed that you haven’t opened any emails from us in the past couple of months. Could it be that we don’t have the most up to date contact information for you?” and went on to give recipients an option of clicking to confirm that they want to receive the emails, or to unsubscribe.

Make It Easier for Customers to Stay in Touch

Suzanne Shaughnessy, senior account executive for FreshAddress, Inc., often strategizes with clients on ideas to reconnect with recipients and update unresponsive email addresses, whether they bounce or are inactive. She pointed out that most websites don’t provide an easy way for customers to update their email addresses.

FreshAddress provides an ECOA solution that allows clients to update their lists using a proprietary change pair (old-new email address pair) database. But, Shaughnessy suggested that businesses try to capture as many of these as possible on the front end to avoid any interruption in marketing efforts as a result of customers changing their email addresses. When it comes to reconnecting with dead addresses or dormant accounts, the sooner this happens, the better.

In the end, all panelists agreed the selected campaign should:

  • Enhance the customer experience, respecting and honoring each recipient’s wishes with an appropriate “Welcome Back” program.
  • Utilize careful analytics and segmentation beforehand to help the marketing team to make likely buyers/members/users their top priority.
  • Ensure that the email addresses being targeted are updated and deliverable so as not to waste valuable marketing dollars reaching out to bounces or email accounts that customers no longer read.

And, of course, adding value – through entertaining, creative or enticing offers – will also add to the overall success of the project.

After all, no marketer really wants to say “good-bye.” They’d rather just say “see you soon!”

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