They're Just Not That Into You: Making Inactive Subscribers Active Again

Alex Mastrianni

Email is all about relationships — creating a trusting, established relationship with your loyal readers — but also addressing the “rocky” relationships you may have with your less-loyal readers: your inactive subscribers. I’m talking about people who your email gets delivered to, but show no history of opening or clicking (sometimes we refer to them as “emotionally unsubscribed”) — they don’t seem to be that into you. Not only do these people skew your true email metrics, but they can also cost you valuable email dollars. Furthermore, many ISPs are beginning to watch how often you send to nonresponsive subscribers and are using that to calculate your email reputation. Staying in a “bad” relationship like this can hurt your email campaigns in a variety of ways.

Clearly they’re just not that into you. So get rid of ’em and move on, right? Wrong. Well, kind of. Just as in the real world of love and romance, a bad relationship can give you valuable information about yourself that you can use to make future relationships more successful. And sometimes, just sometimes, you can revive a bad relationship by using the right tactic, and turn it into something good again (of course, this may be more effective in email than in personal relationships!).

Here are some ideas for making a plan to get the best out of a bad (email) relationship:

Find out who your “bad relationships” are.

You’re probably sending emails to your targeted lists based on an interest, or a membership in a committee, or some other type of identifying characteristic. These target groups are likely made up of people that love you (those who open and click) and people who are seemingly not that interested (your inactive subscribers). In order for you to do anything about the inactives, you must first identify them.

Pick a period of time, such as the most recent six months to a year, which would provide your subscribers a reasonable period of time to show interest. Be sure that this time frame includes a significant number of messages being sent (a minimum of 3 emails is ideal), so you can be sure you’re not affecting someone who did not open for a particular reason (e.g. extended vacation, maternity leave, long business trip, etc.). These are your inactive subscribers – now use them to make yourself better!

Consider the source and look for patterns.

In your own life, if you had a string of bad relationships, you might consider how you met. If you met your last 3 significant others in the same manner, whether online, at a bar, or through blind dates, maybe you might swear off whatever method you met them. Consider the same for email. Do you see any patterns in the emails that you have identified as inactive? For example, look for a significant portion of emails that were collected from a particular source – a web opt-in page, a tradeshow event, a business card drop. You might find that one of these methods delivers addresses that consistently never engage. That would be a time to reconsider the sign-up process, or to establish clearer expectations with new subscribers through that avenue. Also check to see if there are common domains – this may be a spam filter issue at a company level that you can resolve and voila – they ARE just that into you once again.

Consider possible reasons for the loss of interest.

When any relationship turns sour, it’s natural to think “what could I have done to save this?”  So do this for your emails as well. Some possible reasons that your inactives have lost interest:

  • Irrelevant content: just as 2 people may want different things, your subscribers may want different things than they are getting from your emails.
  • Boredom: the 7-year itch can happen for emails, and it often takes far less than 7 years to happen.
  • Can’t read you anymore: a person may feel like they don’t know you anymore, and if your emails are heavy in images but low on text and your readers have images disabled – they won’t know you anymore either.
  • Just don’t “get” you: if your emails are going to their junk mail folder, they’ll never “get” you… or open your email or click your links.

Make calculated changes to make them fall in love all over again.

Okay, so every self-help book in the world probably will tell you not to change yourself for a bad relationship. But here’s where the world of email differs, and the key here is calculated change. Brainstorm ways to combat the lost attention based on the various theories for the loss (listed in #3 above). Try special incentives (discounts, whitepapers, etc.) to gauge whether these subscribers are still paying attention and interested, or surveys and profile updates to motivate them to take action and communicate back to you. Their feedback can be highly valuable! Different subject lines may combat boredom, especially if your subject lines are traditionally generic (ie, July Member Update), and mixing up the content to make it more reader-friendly or spam-filter friendly may also work.

For those subscribers you re-engage – congratulations! You’ve just revived a dead relationship, proving “they’re just not that into you” is not the kiss of death! Maintaining this relationship will continue to take a lot of work and testing (never, ever take your active, engaged subscribers for granted – they make you what you are!), but isn’t that how life is?

Get over it – they’re really just not that into you.

However, after all is said and done – and you’ve made your attempts to re-engage, revive, and entice your inactive subscribers into your loving arms once again – look at those who CONTINUE to be inactive. Those are the ones that perhaps, just perhaps, it’s time to say goodbye to.

The bottom line here is knowing your subscriber base – both the inactives and the actives. Don’t get rid of people just because they haven’t opened or clicked – feel them out, find out why, or see if you can prompt them to take SOME action. I know breaking up is hard to do. So, if you’re really scared, you may want to send them a “last chance” email. You don’t have to let them know you’ve been watching them and they haven’t done anything. Instead, pose it as a “resusbscribe” email, asking them to take an action if they are still interested in receiving your emails. They’ll appreciate your genuine concern for their interests. And for those that don’t, you may have to face facts: they’re just not that into you.

If you’re looking for help on your next re-engagement campaign and need a little guidance, I’d be happy to help! Contact me for more information about our Professional Services offerings.

About the Author
Alex Mastrianni

As the Marketing Manager at Informz, Alex drives the development and implementation of our content marketing plan and marketing campaigns. Outside of work, Alex is a pop culture junkie, ice cream fanatic, and semi-pro vacation planner.