The One-Way Conversation

Building active, long-term relationships with your customers should  be one of the prime objective of email marketers. At the core of doing email marketing well is remembering that building a relationship requires conversation.

 So what do marketers do when email recipients aren’t interested in conversing? We found that, as a whole,  marketers showed a lack of conversational skills in dealing width the apparently uninterested subscriber. The idea of email as a dialogue is missing. By pushing out email without regard for consumer interests or preferences, marketers are putting their email reputation at risk. A poor sender reputation, in turn, creates deliverability problems for their entire email program. By moving from a “one-way conversation” to a true dialogue, marketers can re-engage inactive recipients.

Preference Based Subscription

We recommend that email marketers ask subscribers about their preferences for email frequency and email subject matter when they subscribe or make their initial purchase.

Once preferences are known, they should be honored. While this best practice may not be realistic for all businesses, marketers should, at a minimum, make sure that expectations for mailing frequency are appropriately set.

Where customers are not offered the opportunity to express their frequency preferences, they should be offered the option of reduced frequency once a pattern of inactivity is seen.

Message Frequency

While there are some circumstances where an increase in message frequency is appropriate (e.g. before a holiday, to match recent subscriber activity or in response to a purchase), it doesn’t make sense to consistently increase message frequency on a monthly basis to inactive subscribers. If a subscriber does not respond when receiving an email message every day, they are not likely to respond when receiving more than one—and in either case, they are likely to be extremely annoyed. That increases the risk that the subscriber will click the spam button, contributing to deliverability problems for your company’s entire mailing list.

To maintain optimal frequency, monitor subscriber response—opens, click-throughs and conversions – over time. Note the points at which each metric shows a drop-off in response, and put business rules in place to manage your mailing strategy accordingly. For example, you could specify that you will only mail once a month to any subscriber who has no opens, clicks, or response for six continuous months. A re-permissioning policy (discussed below, page 4) should be a part of the overall email marketing strategy.
Deliverability at Risk

The longer marketers continue to mail to large numbers of inactive subscribers, the greater the chances that their entire program will suffer as the result of reputation problems. Lack of response indicates that a subscriber is not interested in the messages. Eventually that lack of interest will lead to spam complaints by subscribers who have reached their saturation point. Spam complaints directly and negatively affect a marketer’s sending reputation, adversely affecting deliverability  to all subscribers.

This risk is compounded when companies fail to include clear permissioning for promotional emails during the initial checkout (sign-up) process. Without clear permissioning, “subscribers” never really subscribed, and they have no expectation of what will arrive in their inboxes. These recipients are naturally less engaged and more likely to complain due to lack of disclosure.

In addition, some ISPs are increasingly paying attention to whether or not their users respond to commercial mail. If a marketer is mailing at a high frequency and receives a disproportionately low response or no response at all over a consistent period of time, their sender reputation could be negatively impacted. This could lead to having all of the company’s email end up in the spam folder or, worse, having it blocked outright.

Missed Opportunities

Marketers are missing the opportunity to increase sales by re-engaging subscribers in the conversation. In addition, they may be interfering with their ability to optimize email content for their entire email list. This occurs because totally uninterested recipients dilute email response patterns, skewing email metrics and making optimization hard to achieve.

Recommendation:

Don’t experiment—ask! Implement a strategy to get subscribers to renew their permission with your email program, ideally in combination with a preference center, to find out what subscribers want to receive, if anything, and when. Testing does have a place in refining your approach to re-permissioning and finding out what approaches are most effective in generating expressions of continued and future interest.

Recommendations

Include win-back messages in your strategy for re-engaging non-responsive subscribers. Use a methodical analytic approach to determining what offers and creative are most effective, as well as identifying the most effective message timing. Consider basing your offer on the subscriber’s previous purchase. The strategy should specify how many win-back messages will be sent, at what intervals, and at what point in the sequence you will send a re-permissioning message.

Former purchasers represent “low hanging fruit” in email marketing, as it is always less costly to reach out to former customers than it is to acquire new ones. By focusing on developing and maintaining a dialogue with subscribers—a dialogue in which the subscriber sets the terms—email marketers can re-engage subscribers who have been nonresponsive, and reap the benefits of increased sales.

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