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The Modern Marketing Blog covers the latest in marketing strategy, technology, and innovation.

  • July 19, 2013

Email marketing: 3 ways to re-engage your inactive customers

It’s a setback marketers know well: a customer subscribes to a company's email marketing program and she engages actively, accepting new offers and regularly purchasing full-priced products. But then her activity starts to drop and eventually she's added to the email list marketers dread most: the "inactives," or customers that have lost interest in the company or moved on to a competitor.

At this point, an email marketer often makes a big mistake. It ignores the inactives, focusing instead on "healthy emails" (translation: engaged customers) and on acquiring new customers. Often overlooked in this process is compelling research that shows it's far more cost-effective to market to existing customers than it is to acquire new ones. This means a company not only loses out on sales when a customer's interest wanes, but also has to spend more just to replace that dormant buyer.

It doesn't have to be that way. Thanks to big data and the power of predictive analytics, a marketer today can identify customers who are losing interest early and take immediate steps to recapture their attention before they're gone for good.

Follow the ‘digital footprints’

For a digital marketer, data is everything. It's the footprint that customers leave behind. And yet, half of marketing executives surveyed report that they don't use big data to analyze consumer behavior, either because they don't have the budget for it or are skeptical they have the expertise necessary to take advantage of the enormous amounts of consumer information available to them. Those assumptions are misguided. Data analytics doesn't have to be overly complicated, and whatever the costs incurred at the start will pay off hugely down the road. Without proper data analysis, creating an effective email marketing strategy to re-engage active users isn't possible.

To apply data analysis to inactive users, start with an audit of all current email subscribers. These subscribers can be segmented by activity level, including how frequently they engage and when their most recent interaction occurred. In this analysis, sales and purchasing cycles matter a lot. For instance, a seller of running shoes might expect customers to engage every six months (about the same time they're in need of a new pair of shoes), while an online retailer of baby diapers can assume a customer will show interest every few weeks. The process for identifying inactive customers, then, will play out very differently for these companies.

Leverage the digital crystal ball

Customer data isn’t only useful for re-engaging inactive users. It can also be used to predict customer behavior and pinpoint when a customer is likely to disengage in the future. A marketer who audits its email subscriber list regularly -- say, every three to six months -- will likely be able to detect a falloff in a customer's activity early. It's not a given that a customer will return to a brand, no matter how much courting is done, but a marketer can fine-tune its analysis over time to better predict which customers can be re-engaged and which ones are lost for good. This helps a marketer make smarter decisions when creating its email strategy.

The ability to spot patterns, and then changes to those patterns, in a customer's behavior will raise red flags that she is "at-risk" of becoming inactive. Detecting that waning interest early allows a marketer to change its communications with that customer and begin taking steps to lure her back. Helping a customer figure out what's causing her detachment -- even if she's not yet even fully aware that she's detaching -- is key to winning her loyalty.

Stop the 'batch & blast'

Often a customer is inactive because of miscommunication on the marketer's part -- and not because she's lost interest in the company's products or services. The biggest problem is usually frequency of emails; the customer tires of the daily deluge. Other times a marketer sends emails that might work for some customers but don't offer value to that particular customer. The only way for a marketer to woo an inactive customer is to understand what drove her to lose interest in the first place. Here are three email subject lines that are very effective at recapturing a customer's attention and figuring out why she's disengaging:

  1. “Are your email settings up to date?” Simply asking customers to update their email information can have surprising engagement results. This tactic gives the customer an opportunity to enter a new email address if hers has changed, customize her email settings and sign up for mobile or social media updates, if it turns out that's how she prefers to engage.
  2. “We miss you! We’d like to offer you 25% off your next purchase." There are two factors at work here: first, avoid marketing mumbo-jumbo and speak to the issue at hand (that their business is missed). Communicating with customers on a ‘real’ level shows authenticity and will help regain their trust. Second, giving the customer an incentive to re-engage can remind her about the company's great products.
  3. “We’d like your feedback.” For some customers, especially ones that might be disgruntled, asking for feedback is a sure-fire way to get them to re-engage and respond. While not all feedback might be positive (or useful), chances are this can be a great opportunity to assess what’s working and what’s not when it comes to an email program.

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