Make Up or Break Up: Re-engagement email campaign Tips from the Experts

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Make Up or Break Up: Re-engagement email campaign Tips from the Experts

Every email list has its fair share of inactive contacts, and every email marketer once in a while asks whether to hold on or let go. There’s unfortunately no easy answer when it comes to deciding what to do with disengaged subscribers. But with the right re-engagement email campaign, marketers can manage inactive subscribers more effectively.

According to Kissmetrics, inactive contacts make up as much as 60% of an average email list. Meanwhile, Return Path estimates that highly-engaged subscribers represent only around 24% of contacts. Having a large number of inactive accounts on your list drags down email deliverability, since low engagement rates tend to signal poor sender reputation.

Apart from causing deliverability issues, inactive subscribers also waste marketing resources. Most ESPs charge customers based on the volume of emails sent (which, in turn, largely depends on the size of your list). Paying for contacts that won’t convert into nurtured opportunities or closed deals clearly hurts your email marketing ROI.

But there’s more to dealing with inactive contacts than simply deleting them from your list altogether. It’s good practice to run a re-engagement email campaign to try and win back stalled subscribers. The campaign’s results will help you determine which contacts to keep and which ones to forget about.

So, how should you reach out to uninterested contacts? Here’s what the experts have to say.

Define exactly what “inactive subscriber” means

As MailChimp explains, the term “inactive subscriber” can mean different things to different marketers. But in general, a contact gets labeled as inactive in two ways:

  • Based on a subscriber’s activity (or lack thereof)
  • Based on time elapsed since last engaging with a campaign

It’s up to you how much lack of activity (opens or clicks in the last X emails) or time period to set as your criterion. The key thing to remember is that a lack of interaction doesn’t indicate inactivity right away (which brings us to our next point).

Segment inactive contacts into 3 groups

Now that you’ve chosen a yardstick to measure inactivity, it’s time to figure out what to do with contacts that meet the criterion. Campaign Monitor notes that inactive subscribers fall into 3 categories, each requiring a different re-engagement approach.

  • Never-Actives –subscribers who have never engaged, most likely contacts who signed up for a one-time offer such as a free download. Send a re-commitment email that lets them indicate their mailing preferences.
  • Dormant – subscribers who were once active but have now become unengaged. Send a series of nurturing emails that offer value (such as a relevant article or resource).
  • Customer Inactives – Once-active customers who no longer interact with any of your campaigns. Gradually ramp down your email cadence before asking the final question.

Craft a compelling re-engagement email

You already know that your past emails didn’t resonate well with inactive subscribers. That’s why your re-engagement emails need to look, feel, and sound a bit different from your usual campaigns.

For subject lines, HubSpot suggests spicing things up with a little personalization (such as the recipient’s name, company, or industry), as well as “asking for signs of life” with a relevant question.

AWeber lays out a number of guidelines in order to write effective re-engagement email content:

  • Find out why inactive subscribers signed up in the first place
  • Check whether you’re continuing to meet these expectations
  • Uncover any previous changes to your email strategy that may have affected engagement
  • Determine what to offer in order to pique their interest

To maximize response rates for your re-engagement email campaign, you need to include a clear, strong, and specific call-to-action (CTA). Whether you’re pointing them to a helpful resource or asking whether they’d still like to remain on your list, you need to make that action easy for recipients to complete.

Automate re-engagement, but humanize your response

Manually keeping track of subscriber inactivity works well when handling relatively small email lists. But when your contacts number in the thousands, the only way to do re-engagement email campaigns at scale is through automation.

SendGrid thinks that a huge part of your re-engagement campaign’s workflow should be automated. Tasks such as scheduling send-outs and unsubscribing contacts are best handled by machines, so that you stay focused on more exciting stuff in your email marketing program.

However, not all activities in your re-engagement email campaign should be set on autopilot. Responding to feedback and inquiries from your recipients are, for now, still best done by humans.


There’s still value to be had from trying to win back disengaged subscribers—that is, if you reach out the right way. So, build a robust re-engagement email campaign strategy using what we’ve talked about in this post.

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