Question: What can I do to re-engage inactive subscribers on my e-mail list?

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Answer:  Inactive subscribers are poison to your e-mail program. These are the people who opt in but never open, click or respond to your marketing messages. Don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone on your list still wants your e-mail just because you have low unsubscribe rates. Unsubscribing is perceived as more of a hassle than just deleting e-mail. A recent Return Path consumer study found that nearly 70% of people reported that they delete unread "interesting" e-mail. Worse yet, many people can just click their ISP’s this-is-spam button.

If you want to improve customer response and interactivity, you need to pay attention to your inactive rate. Here’s how to get started:

  • Pull the inactive subscribers into a separate database list. We typically look at three months but, depending on your business, six months might be OK. Anything past that and your chances of reconnecting are slim.
  • Append data to this list from any other databases you can access in order to learn everything you can about inactive subscribers. Look for clues in the source of the data (is one partner sending you inappropriate leads?), the sign-up date (do long-time subscribers need different info than new subscribers in order to become active again?) and purchase history (are customers of certain products more likely to become inactive? Is that indicative of a service or account-management issue?).
  • Develop alternate content choices. If folks are not interested in your current e-mail offerings, develop several new options. See what has the greatest interest in your testing, and then offer the winners to the full group.
  • Test new subject lines and incentives to see what will spark attention. Consider changing the "From" address (not the domain, just the name) to break through old habits of avoidance.
  • Now, target campaigns to these segments in order to re-engage subscribers--with careful attention to your permission and privacy policies.

While you may never get your current crop of inactives back, you can take steps now to decrease the size of that group going forward. Focus on improving the interest and trust of your subscribers and enhancing their experience overall. Make sure you regularly pull your three-month inactives and remarket to them appropriately.

Stephanie Miller is VP-strategic services at Return Path,

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