Sub­scribers in your data­base that con­sis­tent­ly fail to take action could be hurt­ing you more than you think. Con­trib­u­tor Kyle Hen­drick sug­gests tac­tics to get them engag­ing with your brand again.

In a recent sur­vey, Yes Life­cy­cle Mar­ket­ing (my com­pa­ny), found that near­ly half (45 per­cent) of mar­keters ranked email  as their top pri­or­i­ty for 2018.

Obvi­ous­ly, we know email is kind of a big deal. What sur­prised me is that the next clos­et chan­nel, web­site, was a dis­tant sec­ond with only 24 per­cent of mar­keters rank­ing it as their top pri­or­i­ty.

What does that real­ly mean? First, it con­tin­ues to sup­port email marketing’s ROI and rep­u­ta­tion as a well-estab­lished chan­nel. Sec­ond, com­pe­ti­tion for that inbox engage­ment is only going to con­tin­ue becom­ing fiercer.

The factors contributing to the issue

Look­ing at the last two years here, we saw an increase in emails sent of 12 per­cent year-over-year (YOY), with an even greater increase in Q4 (15 per­cent.) Between flood­ed inbox­es and email remain­ing a top pri­or­i­ty in 2018, it is now more dif­fi­cult than ever for mar­keters to retain sub­scribers’ atten­tion.

Cur­rent­ly, users can active­ly opt out of email lists by unsub­scrib­ing or hit­ting the ‘SPAM’ fil­ter with­in their email ser­vice provider (ESP). Typ­i­cal­ly, this link is buried at the bot­tom of the email, and Gmail made head­lines back in 2014 when it intro­duced the “unsub­scribe” but­ton at the top instead. Apple fol­lowed suit in 2016 with its intro­duc­tion of the Apple iOS 10 unsub­scribe but­ton.

These devel­op­ments caused a fren­zy among mar­keters. Sure­ly if it’s eas­i­er to unsub­scribe, then there would be a mass exo­dus from mar­ket­ing emails, right? The answer was a tri­umphant ‘no!’ Instead, mar­keters dis­cov­ered that easy unsub­scribe but­tons actu­al­ly helped weed out unen­gaged sub­scribers and non-pur­chasers lin­ger­ing with­in mar­keters’ email data­base. And that led to improved deliv­er­abil­i­ty.

How­ev­er, the sil­ver lin­ing of active opt-outs (sub­scribers who have unsub­scribed or hit the ‘SPAM’ fil­ter) does not apply to ‘pas­sive opt-outs.’ I use the term ‘pas­sive opt-out’ to describe the behav­ior of an email sub­scriber who no longer engages with your brand but still col­lects pro­mo­tion­al emails for as long as the brand sends them.

It’s been doc­u­ment­ed that unen­gaged sub­scribers who have pas­sive­ly opt­ed out and are lin­ger­ing in your data­bas­es hurt your email deliv­er­abil­i­ty amongst ISPs (Gmail, etc.), and they also make it dif­fi­cult to mea­sure unsub­scribes like we have in the past. Thus, it’s impor­tant to mon­i­tor the effect of your brand’s ‘pas­sive opt-out’ audi­ence and refine your strate­gies to avoid them build­ing up like den­tal plaque. I ful­ly expect the pas­sive opt-out rate to increase and con­tin­ue to be a major chal­lenge for email mar­keters in 2018.

What to do about it

To re-engage these pas­sive sub­scribers and avoid los­ing poten­tial pur­chasers, mar­keters need to proac­tive­ly shift their email life­cy­cle mes­sag­ing and cus­tomer loy­al­ty approach. Con­tent needs to become more infor­ma­tive, fun and engag­ing to pre­vent sub­scribers from los­ing inter­est and pas­sive­ly opt­ing out.

Note that this doesn’t mean you should send a flood of high-val­ue offers that cut into your mar­gin. Savvy mar­keters will con­sid­er tac­tics like mix­ing up mes­sag­ing cadence, ingest­ing edi­to­r­i­al val­ue-dri­ven con­tent (sticky con­tent), send­ing re-engage­ment emails at key life­cy­cle moments of inac­tiv­i­ty, invest­ing in trig­gers and more.

As you con­sid­er my sug­gest­ed tac­tics to encour­age engage­ment, remem­ber that not every sub­scriber or list behaves the same. Run an analy­sis on your sub­scribers to find key peaks and val­leys to keep sub­scribers active. Email mar­keters should incor­po­rate and test these strate­gies to boost engage­ment with­in the time peri­ods defined.

● Mix up mes­sag­ing cadence. Some sub­scribers will start to ignore mar­ket­ing emails if they receive them too often or at the wrong time. Before your audi­ence mem­ber becomes a non-par­tic­i­pant, use and pro­mote pref­er­ence cen­ters that enable sub­scribers to select their pre­ferred mail­ing fre­quen­cy and type of email con­tent. Don’t fear send­ing less! Allow­ing the sub­scriber to dri­ve the tim­ing and rel­e­van­cy will inform you of what they real­ly want.

Addi­tion­al­ly, learn what days of the week dri­ve the most engage­ment. Our data from 2016 found that Fri­days gar­nered the high­est engage­ment, while Sat­ur­days saw the high­est con­ver­sion rates. Test Thurs­days and Sat­ur­days as “fun” sends with­in the cadence to increase chances that sub­scribers will engage.

● Try reach­ing out with unique con­tent on a reg­u­lar basis. To avoid start­ing to lose sub­scribers who have been dor­mant for a month, maybe you can try to send some­thing spe­cial around day 28. That may sig­nal to the inac­tive sub­scriber that you have more to offer usu­al and moti­vates them to open or click through at a reg­u­lar cadence.

While you’re at it, spend a lit­tle more effort to make sure these emails are per­son­al­ized. Aside from address­ing the sub­scriber by name, mar­keters should be hon­est with their inten­tions. Most impor­tant­ly, have fun with it! Sub­scribers are peo­ple at the end of the day, so let them know you haven’t seen them active in a while, miss them and offer sug­ges­tions for items sim­i­lar to what they may have pur­chased or browsed in the past.

● Invest and inno­vate your trig­gers. Trig­gered emails, which are emails sent in response to spe­cif­ic con­sumer actions or data, have con­sis­tent­ly been shown to have greater engage­ment than the stan­dard con­tent. There are a pletho­ra of trig­gers to con­sid­er from aban­doned cart to a pur­chase or a cur­rent event in their neigh­bor­hood. Grub­Hub, for instance, sends loca­tion-based emails for food deliv­ery, trig­gered by loca­tion-based weath­er con­di­tions, such as snow or rain. Mean­while, Dunkin Donuts sends emails tai­lored to sports teams per­for­mance.

● Offer unique, val­ue-dri­ven edi­to­r­i­al con­tent. Since it’s so easy for sub­scribers to pas­sive­ly opt out, mar­keters need to do more to moti­vate opens and click-throughs. That means learn­ing more about indi­vid­ual sub­scribers or audi­ence seg­ments, and offer­ing them rel­e­vant, time­ly con­tent that meets their unique needs and isn’t aggres­sive­ly sell­ing your prod­uct.

These emails need to be dif­fer­ent from your busi­ness-as-usu­al emails. For exam­ple, a brand or retail­er that recent­ly sold a slow cook­er to a sub­scriber online could fol­low up with emails con­tain­ing ideas for sea­son­al slow cook­er recipes, social forums for slow cook­er fanat­ics to share ideas in, or inspir­ing ways use a slow cook­er that isn’t food relat­ed.

With pas­sive opt-outs con­tin­u­ing to be a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge and the com­pe­ti­tion con­tin­u­ing to heat up, email mar­keters should be smart and exper­i­ment with new tac­tics to boost engage­ment. To max­i­mize poten­tial, you should invest in push­ing the lim­its of rel­e­vant con­tent while test­ing into new life­cy­cle mes­sages to keep your data­bas­es healthy in 2018.