Partner Insights: When It’s Time To Say Goodbye: Inactive Email Addresses

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

Our panelists are:

Jeanniey Mullen, Global EVP, Chief Marketing Officer – Zinio LLC and VIVmag

Loren McDonald, VP, Industry Relations – Silverpop

Chip House, VP Industry & Relationship Marketing -ExactTarget

FreshPerspectives (FP): Jeanniey, a lot of our readers have problems with inactive emails. How long do you recommend they wait before dropping them from their databases?

Jeanniey: This is one of the trickiest email questions out there. The answer depends 100% on your business and your typical sales cycles. For example, if you are in the hotel industry where travelers might only reserve rooms once per year, dropping non-responders from your file too soon (e.g. after 6 months of inactivity) will result in lost revenues. The key is to be sure you have got their mindshare when they are ready to make a purchase. One school of thought is to determine what the sales cycle for your business is and give your reader 3 cycles worth of opportunity before dropping them.

FP: Loren, what’s your take on this quandary?

Loren: First, there really is no standard definition for what makes an email address inactive. Many marketers use 6, 9 or 12 months without email opens or clicks. Other marketers might also incorporate offline and purchase behavior into their analyses. It’s also worth noting that many ISPs look at whether the account itself shows any activity for six months and use this screen as one of the factors for routing your emails to the inbox or junk folder.

Regardless of how you define inactivity, segmenting your inactives into a separate message track for re-engagement programs or less frequent mailings has become a common practice. With a re-engagement strategy, you segment out email addresses when they hit your inactivity threshold and send them special offers inviting them to update their preferences, subscriptions or addresses.

Many marketers have also seen success by mailing less frequently. Others try a multi-stage approach, sending progressively more aggressive offers. After the last one, they remove non-responders from their mailing lists.

One approach I recommend is to do a historical analysis of your inactives based on your chosen threshold to see what percentage of these became active again and/or made a purchase. This analysis should give you solid data to determine where to place your inactive (i.e. removal) threshold.

Whether you should completely remove or suppress inactive subscribers is one of the most hotly debated issues in email marketing. Some refuse to do it on the chance that an inactive subscriber could become active again and download your product or buy online. Others believe an email in the inbox, even if its not read, can provide sufficient brand awareness to keep your company top of mind and drive future purchases, online or offline.

The right answer really depends on your business model, sales cycle, list characteristics and your comfort zone.

The reality is that most subscribers go inactive either because your email program is not delivering the value they expect or you’re sending to an email account they simply no longer read. So, before removing your non-responders, make sure you’ve taken your email program up several notches in sophistication and value. If that doesn’t work, find a way to gain their new email addresses.

FP: Last but not least, Chip, what do you advise marketers to do?

Chip: Email list hygiene is a critical task and marketers can no longer assume that they can continue to send to their entire database without an ongoing and active review process. We’ve seen drops in deliverability for some B2C senders as a result of leaving inactive addresses in their databases for several months, usually 90 days or longer.

ISPs have also begun to monitor inactivity or the level of engagement of your list. My recommendation is that a mailer review their names every 90 days and remove or attempt to re-engage people that haven’t opened or clicked in that period.

FP: We would be remiss if we did not mention that FreshAddress provides patented Email Change of Address technology which can update up to 15+% of the bouncing or inactive email addresses in your file. Utilizing ECOA can help you reconnect with lost customers and prospects, maximize email deliverability, reduce marketing costs associated with bouncing emails, and avoid being blacklisted by ISPs.

FP: Thanks so much for sharing your insights on this subject. We’ll “talk” again next month!

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