In an ideal scenario, company wants to every contact in their subscription list active. However, this is not always the case, because subscribers grow and some of them change their preferences overtime.

Inactive subscribers

In the past, the old school way of dealing with the inactive subscribers was to clean them out. Sending emails to inactive customers could hurt your deliverability. If the email provider see that you are sending email after email to people who aren’t opening them, they could start diverting emails to spam folder.

Marketers see inactive subscribers as a waste of time and resources. What’s the point of focusing on a contact if they are not interested?

Now marketers realize it takes 500% more the cost to acquire new customers than to keep the existing ones.

If an inactive subscriber was interested in your company or product at some point, you could encourage them to rejoin the active group and check out new offerings. In addition, it takes a waiting period for inactive subscribers to impact delivery results. A business with good opt-in practice maybe able to grow out their organic content while maintaining the inactive subscribers in order to make them into active customers once again.

Should we eliminate all the inactive users?

The answer is nope! Here’s why. Inactive customers doesn’t mean that they are totally disinterested. Actually, it could be the case that customers are not in a mood to open all emails or they’re customers who are very informed about your brand. And because they’re knowledgeable personas. The emails you sent might be information they already knew. Try tailor your emails towards these high value customers. Increase the level of depth and sophistication in your content. While some customers might have shown interest in the brand but has abandoned their email accounts, stop checking shortly after they subscribed. These customers could be inactive but current customers. We could re-engage and check in with all the inactives to build better relationships with customers and improve deliverability.

There are three kinds of inactive email subscribers:

1. Never-actives

New subscribers who have never been engaged, forgot that they have opted-in. They have a lack of healthy engagement because of the following factors:

  • Subscribers did not recall they opted in, which could be due to poor permission practices.
  • Subscribers used a secondary or tertiary email account that is not checked often or never.
  • Subscribers could be bots use email signups or sweepstakes for other contest entries.
  • Someone impersonates the email address holder signed up the address.

These subscribers score a low value. When the opt-in process is not confirmed, marketers should consider using post signup as a confirmation of subscription. In other words, an opt-in confirmation sent via email to ensure the recipient agrees to opt-in.

The threshold or cutoff depends on email frequency. If a subscriber has not opened of clicked any emails in the first 4 months on the list, then this should generate a re-permission email alert that requires them to click a link in an email to confirm if they want to continue receiving emails.

If you are seeing a substantial number of never-actives, especially on  single email client, then your emails are actually junked. Your emails are unseen because users rarely check their spam folder on a regular basis.

2. Lapsed inactive customers

Inactive subscribers who are also inactive customers. They have stopped buying, donating, or participating in your brand’s online community. The risks with these inactives are moderate and it is at your company’s interest to re-engage with them. After all, it is more cost effective to engage existing customers than generating new ones.

3. Current customers, but inactive

The third category is when customers are known to be active. Sometimes many subscribers have the habit of not opening emails given that they have already seen the info elsewhere on the internet. Some might be opening them with images disabled or by not clicking.

When you have many current customers being inactive, you need to redefine what an inactive subscriber is vs. an inactive customer. In doing so, you should think about product and purchase life cycles. For example, purchase cycles for a car brand is entirely different from baby toys, tablet computers, and servers.

How you treat your lapse customer inactives vs current customer inactives are totally different. This depends on your organization’s context. Not all organizations have high tolerance towards deliverability risk, while others have much lower tolerances.  Different organizations react differently towards inactive subscribers.

Ask yourself the following, to determine what your organization has in terms of appetite for deliverablility risk.

  1. Does your organization have strong permission practices? Do all or most of your subscribers sign up via a double or confirmed opt-in process?
  2. What percentage of your active mailing list has engaged in the past month? 3 months? 6 months?
  3. Does your organization have good visibility into your deliverability? If you developed a problem, how quickly would you realize it?
  4. Is your organization able to match up customer activity with subscriber activity?
  5. Would you know how to remediate a deliverability problem if you developed one? Do you work with or have access to a deliverability specialist?
  6. Have you had deliverability issues in the past? How much did those incidences hurt your business?

When your company suffers in deliverability issues, start addressing the lapsed customers inactives in a three-month period and the current customer inactives in 13 months. If you have great engagement and deliverability, you could choose to address lapsed customer inactives in 13 months and current customer inactives in two to three years.

Keep in mind that companies may not have the visibility to determine which of the inactives are current customers. All they know is, it is possible that there are current customers within the inactive groups: lasped and current inactives. You might not be able to tell two apart. If this happens, set the same threshold for the two groups.

Find a good opportunity to re-engage

Low frequency senders need to determine what dates are the golden opportunities throughout the year. For example, labour day week is a good time to promote school supplies and textbooks right when kids are back to school.

High frequency senders should create tailored opt-in options for consumers to choose how often. They should also be able to select the type of content they would  like to opt in. Send your consumers an opt in confirmation and ask them to confirm the categories they wish to sign up. This way, we know the email account holders have actual intent to sign up for emails.

To conclude, there is no absolute time period or threshold that companies need to adhere to. The time to re-engage inactive customers and subscribers depends on the level of risk tolerance an organization has in terms of deliverability. Management should work closely with marketing to judge how and when they should deal with the three groups of inactive subscribers in order to maximize success in engagement and keep all risks in check. The main objective is to draw inactive customers back into the active groups. Capitalize on the opportunity to rekindle close relationships with customers.