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What strategies for managing inactives in emailing?

The number of inactive subscribers in email marketing is often very high. It is not exceptional that more than half of the members of an email list have not opened or clicked for more than six months. However, advertisers rarely take the bull by the horns.

Creating a reactivation and deactivation program is an opportunity to limit losses due to automatic deletion. But also to take action earlier in the subscriber's life cycle. Explanation.

The impact of the inactive

Inactive people in an email list can be a major problem for your business:

  • Deliverability problem (your reputation as a sender is partly based on the response rate of your list)
  • Decrease in potential revenue
  • Statistics that do not represent reality

Focus on inactive users rather than active ones?

Imagine ... if all your inactives were earning as much as your assets! Have you ever done the math? Well, okay, it's probably utopian ... but even if it's only a fraction of them, isn't it worth it?

In email marketing, it is regularly said that it is less expensive to invest in existing subscribers than to acquire new ones. If you measure the performance of your emailing campaigns correctly, it should be quite easy to verify this statement. So get your spreadsheets!

Data audit and sales cycle study

Before you start creating your reactivation program, it is important to know your inactives. This will allow you to identify the main trends and eventually establish different strategies according to their profile:

  • Analysis by recruitment source
  • Analysis of inactive users' seniority
  • Analysis of the number of days before inactivity
  • Creation of a typology of inactive people and segmentation on this basis
  • Analysis of frequency changes in the emailing program
  • Purchase history

In terms of value, the difference between an inactive subscriber who has already purchased and an inactive subscriber who has never purchased is obviously very important. And even if it is interesting to (re)conquer these two categories, the potential of subscribers who have never bought will be much lower and the program deployed will have to be different.

Why don't your subscribers click/open anymore? Ask the question!

Different reasons can create inactivity:

  • The content is no longer attractive
  • The needs of the subscriber have changed
  • The pace does not match expectations
  • The emails arrive in spam
  • Change of email address

To find out why your subscribers stop opening or clicking on your emails ... why not ask them? It's a way to prove to them that you are interested in their needs ... and to categorize them more effectively. This type of break in the usual flow of your newsletters and other commercial emails will also allow you to get a more important moment of attention.

Reactivate before it's too late, even if it leads to inactivation!

Most reactivation programs are based on sending exceptional discounts, which are far more generous than what is done elsewhere. While this is an approach that should continue, it is not sufficient. It is more interesting to make the situation clear to your subscriber, explaining that you would like to regain their trust (e.g. by asking them why they no longer open, see above).

By habit, I define an inactive subscriber as a subscriber who has not opened, clicked or purchased in the last six months. However, you don't have to wait that long to take action (definition varies depending on the sector and the nature of the business). But you need to minimize the impact of inactives as soon as possible ... and if possible before your subscribers become inactive. This means:

  • a good welcome program
  • the use of a preference management center
  • relevant content
  • a strong permission
  • a simplified unsubscription process

Automated program

The good news about inactive management is that the whole process can be automated. We'll probably go into more detail in another article about various reactivation program scenarios, but here's already a basic example:

  1. 3 months after last action: Survey of reasons for inactivity
  2. If reaction on the survey: Action based on the response and the subscriber returns to the assets segment
  3. 2 weeks after the survey, and if no response: Request to update the subscriber's profile
  4. 2 weeks after the previous point, and in the absence of response: Exceptional promotional action
  5. 4 weeks after the previous point, and in the absence of response: Without reaction from you, you will not receive any more emails from us within a month.
  6. 4 weeks after the previous point, and no response: Your address has been deactivated.

This is an extremely basic example! It is important to optimize the strategy by using AB testing and evaluating the reactivation program every three to six months.

Image: The Siesta (Afternoon in Dreams), Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Domaine Public

The author

5 réponses

  1. Very good article Mr. Jonathan! I have a question, if the company's emails already arrive in spam is it that an email asking why the person does not open or arrive too?

  2. Thanks for the article
    @Yves, if ALL the company's emails arrive in spam, the problem is elsewhere
    there are other solutions for spam inactives 🙂

    but for that I'm sure Jonathan will have an article for us 😉

  3. Yves,

    Two options, either as Dan says, all the advertiser's emails arrive in spam. In this case, the solution has nothing to do with a reactivation program.

    Either the emails arrive in spam for this user ... because he is inactive or because he classified the email as spam. In the first case, it's that you have to trigger the reactivation earlier, in the second ... you had to offer interesting content to the user and not hide the unsubscribe link 😉

  4. Hello Jonathan!

    I attended this morning to your speech during the digital locomotive, and a question just crossed my mind about the treatment of inactive emails... After sending a news, I find myself with several automatic responses indicating changes of email address... What to do legally in these cases? Unsubscribe the old address and invite the prospect to re-subscribe with the new one? OR does the fact that he sends this auto message to his new address imply an agreement in itself? Thank you in advance, and thank you for this morning, it was very enriching!

  5. Hello,

    Glad you enjoyed the conference and thank you for your question.

    The first thing is that you must absolutely think about stopping routing to the address in question, otherwise you could be penalized by the ISP in question.

    Then, concerning the consent (without being a jurist, and as it is a particular case I can be wrong), if it was well collected for the email channel according to the rules of the art, there should be no problem to simply correct the address. In any case, it is probably better to inform the subscriber.

    Kind regards,


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