Reactivate subscribers to keep e-mail marketing effective

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Engaged subscribers are the lifeblood of a successful e-mail marketing campaign. Their interactions with your messages dictate trends and give you insights that can lead to more profitable campaigns down the road. But what do you do when some of those subscribers lose interest and are no longer actively opening and clicking?

An e-mail best practice here is simply removing subscribers who haven't responded to any of your e-mails in the past three to six months and moving forward with the ones who are still opening and clicking. But this is difficult advice to swallow. After all, those inactives are living, breathing individuals who at one point had some interest in receiving e-mails from you. Most of them aren't interested anymore (and are artificially suppressing your response rates); but chances are at least a few of them would still like to hear from you.

So before you delete your inactive subscribers for good, run a reactivation campaign to give them a chance to reaffirm their interest in your business. Here are some steps to do just that:

  1. Step back and reassess.Take stock of your e-mails and revisit your sign-up form. How do your messages stack up to your original offer? Are you mailing your list too often? Not enough? Do you provide valuable information about your product or service? All of these things factor into a subscriber's decision to stop responding to your messages.

    If your messages have strayed from your original value proposition, make edits and recommit yourself to making them all relevant and valuable. Remind subscribers of the benefits of being on your list. Tell them exactly what makes your e-mails special and worth their time.

  2. Offer something in return. No one knows your industry better than you do. Create a white paper that addresses a common concern among your prospects and customers. A professional document will remind subscribers of why they are on your list in the first place and help re-establish you as an authority in their minds.

    The point of a reactivation campaign is not to immediately close sales, so consider giving away a report or consultation for free—even if you have something similar for sale. The extra value it provides could be enough to keep subscribers on your list.

  3. Ask for an action. Throughout your reactivation campaign, you want to separate the people who are still somewhat interested in your business from those who have completely checked out. Therefore, make it easy for those still-interested subscribers to take some kind of action.

    Conduct a survey of these inactive people and ask them whether they want to hear from you weekly or monthly. Assess their interest in your e-mails by asking point-blank whether or not they are still interested in your campaign with two links: a “yes” and a “no.”

  4. If at first you don't succeed ... Keep in mind that even when these moribund subscribers were active, they didn't open or click on every single message you sent them. And they won't all open or click on your first try at reactivation. Therefore, approach your reactivation campaign as a series of two to three e-mails. Send the second message to people who don't respond to the first one, and the third one to people who don't respond to the second one.

    Also, starting with the second message, tell subscribers that if they don't respond they will no longer receive the benefits of your e-mails. Employ urgency in the last message in the series: Tell them they'll never hear from your company again unless they take immediate action.

  5. Learn to let go. In the end, the odds are good that more than half of inactives won't respond to your reactivation e-mails. Don't panic. Take their disinterest as a blessing in disguise. There is no point in keeping those e-mail addresses on your subscriber list. An unresponsive list hurts response rates and deliverability.

    There are plenty of people out there who are interested in what you have to offer. Focus your time and energy on those who do want to hear from you, and branch out to find others who feel the same way.

  6. Justin Premick is director-education marketing at e-mail marketing software company AWeber Communications ( He can be reached at

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