Picking The Right Re-engagement Tactics

by Jordie van Rijn last updated on

If you think email attrition is unavoidable and re-engaging unnecessary, think again. Customers do lose interest in every aspect of life, and yes, that even includes your brand. But that interest can be re-kindled. When it comes to your brand, it’s in your own best interests to make the effort to do so and minimize the inactive segment.

Two reasons why you need to re-engage

Let’s consider two reasons why you should have a re-engagement strategy in place to try and get your disinterested subscribers interested again. They are Brand Aware. Customers and subscribers are already warm leads. Once upon a time there was some kind of interest on their part. At some point they wanted to hear from you; that’s why they subscribed in the first place.

So they are not a cold, faceless @-sign, but real people that opted-in and once asked to get your emails in their inbox. It’s much easier (and often cheaper) to engage a contact with already a high level of Brand Awareness than to get a stranger interested, so it’s worth your effort to spark an interest once again.
Secondly, it’s good list hygiene. Keeping names on your email list “just because” can affect your deliverability as the ISPs see you repeatedly sending emails to people who never open them. Plus it can throw you off in looking at the analytics through averages. It’s better to focus efforts on a quality audience than a quantity one. Implementing a re-engagement strategy to weed the disinterested off of your list and get the interested ones back on board helps you maintain that quality list.

Understanding the difference between re-engaging and win-backs

There are different kinds of re-engagement efforts, just like there are different reasons why people lose interest in the first place, as you’ll see. So there are different ways to approach this, and they go by different names. Because marketers sometimes confuse re-engagement emails with win-back emails, let’s make sure we first understand the difference, because this difference will matter in a minute: A re-engagement email is used to get someone interested in your emails and your brand again, on an ongoing basis. A win-back email, on the other hand, is used to drive a purchase (after that purchase seemed lost).

Reasons for disengagement

You have to have a sense for why people lose interest in your emails before you start a re-engagement campaign, because you’ll need to target different segments accordingly, and because you need to stop doing the things causing the disinterest.

Although once-willing subscribers stop opening your emails for a myriad of reasons, four stand out to me:

  1. Bad content: Email is easy – sometimes too easy – and a lot of bad content goes from a marketer’s desk to a subscriber’s inbox. If people don’t like what you’re sending them, they will stop opening your emails.
  2. Too many emails: Often people lose interest in your brand because you send too many emails and they can’t (and/or don’t want to) keep up.
  3. Promises not kept: If your website promises something to subscribers and then doesn’t deliver, people will not only lose interest, but trust too. Deliver on the promises you make at signup time.
  4. They weren’t interested in the first place: Brands that use gimmicks and sweepstakes to garner subscribers usually suffer through a lot of attrition and inactives, because these people were never interested in the first place. If you want to try and give your list a boost with a sweepstake, maybe keep those subscribers in a separate list and try and convert them into “real” subscribers later.

You need to understand why people lose interest because you can’t message them all the same way. And as for that last reason, those that were never interested, you should probably kiss them goodbye without much effort at all.

The DMA email tracking study showed that 35% of consumers maintain separate addresses for marketing emails, and another 10% have a separate inbox just for spam reasons, which is where they park those gimmick-laden, sweepstakes-based subscription mails from brands they didn’t love or want to hear from in the first place…in other words, the “stuff I never read anyway” mailbox.

how different email addresses are used


What are they disengaging from?

In addition, to understand why various segments lose interest, you need to understand what they aren’t engaged with. They might not open your emails but they might be browsing your website, for example, or going to your brick-and-mortar store. They might be interacting with your brand on Facebook, but not your emails in the inbox. Or maybe they do open your emails but they don’t ever buy from you. As you can see, there are different kinds of inactive, requiring different messages.

Let’s use a Starbucks coffee analogy here, for the different kinds of disinterest and how we might approach these consumers.

  1. A tall: A tall order means the consumer who isn’t engaging with your emails, but still visits your website, store, and/or social media sites. This person is going to be the easiest to re-engage.
  2. A grande: This is a slightly bigger order. This person isn’t opening your emails nor are they visiting your website or engaging with your brand in any kind of way that you can measure. It’s going to take a bit more work and caffeine to get this subscriber back!
  3. A venti: This is a big order. This person is not interested at all. They don’t open your emails, engage with your brand, and they’ve never made a purchase. Winning this person back might be a fruitless endeavor, a big, tall drink of empty calories, because they have expressed zero interest beyond subscribing so far.

Now your job is to get their order right, just like Starbucks, and taking the right approach in re-engaging. Ask for different actions based on what kind of inactive you’re dealing with. Your strategy can include these different approaches for example:

  1. Asking them to update their preferences
  2. Getting them re-engaged with incentives
  3. Getting a sale
  4. Asking them to re-opt in before to cleanse the email list
Starbucks email newsletter asking users to update their account
Starbucks email newsletter asking users to update their account


Email disengagement only

It might just be your emails are the problem. If a consumer has been on your website or Facebook page recently, they are still interacting with your brand, even if they aren’t interacting with your email. That means they still have potential value as a customer. Maybe they don’t engage with your email because it is not properly personalized, so encourage them to update their preferences. A simple reactivation email prompting them to update their preferences, for example, is a good place to start.

Why would we call such emails re-engagement emails? Because we want the consumer to once again engage with our brand— to open that email and the subsequent ones too. It’s not enough to get the disinterested subscriber to open one email. What we really want is consumers to stay active and start interacting and stimulate purchasing again. Not sure how to achieve that? Check out these 5 retention emails that will make your users want to stick for longer.

Website and email disengagement

On the other hand, there are users who don’t show email engagement or any other kind of engagement. Typically these inactives will present a bigger challenge. With these kinds of disinterested consumers, you are closer to a “letting go” situation, but remember the benefits of list hygiene to your deliverability and list quality. You have to (re)demonstrate your value to them. This email from Mint does a good job including testimonials from other users.

Mint Reactivation Newsletter
Mint reactivation newsletter


Whatever you do, do it more than once

Whatever the segment you’re messaging and the approach you’re taking, be sure to use a series of emails, not just one. For a detailed example of segmenting audiences and doing a series of emails to each, see this CNET case study that MarketingSherpa published.

Although doing a series sounds like a lot of work, it’s not if you use automated emails to do the work for you. The actual investment to get an automated re-engagement series done is actually quite low, especially if you have the right tools and possibly even less of an effort with a great email marketing agency.

What’s also important is that you don’t have to stick to just emails. Facebook Custom Audiences and Google AdWords Customer Match can help you reactivate your subscribers, even if they’re not opening your emails.

Be patient, keep them in escrow

Don’t drop people immediately after sending your re-engagement series. A Return Path study found it can be weeks or even months before someone takes action in response to a re-engagement campaign. Keep these in escrow on your main list folding them back into the program. But don’t drop them altogether until after a predetermined amount of time has past.

customer lifecycle chart
The best timing right before they disengage. This chart shows the purchase cycle, you can think of your engagement in the same way.

Be willing to let them go

Email database size is a meaningless KPI. The numbers that matter are the ones that show you how many people in your database are buying from you and how many are engaged with your emails. So, for those addresses that have plainly no value, let them go. Accept this is the final fate of some of your email database and focus your efforts on the email addresses that are worth your time and money.

What do you do to keep your customers engaged and interested? Share with us in the comments below! 

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