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How to Craft Reactivation Emails That Win Back Subscribers

What’s the largest unread count you’ve seen in someone’s inbox? Whether you’re a proponent of inbox zero or an “I’ll get to it when I get to it” email accumulator, know high unread counts aren’t uncommon. A recent consumer survey found 20% of respondents had 1,000 or more unread emails in their inboxes.

Given the vast amount of emails sent out daily (over 300 billion each day in 2020), it’s hardly a surprise so many go unread. Consumers, overwhelmed by their inboxes, rarely have time to read everything. If your brand doesn’t make the cut, they may unsubscribe from your list. However, they might also get in the habit of deleting your emails before reading them or leaving them to get buried in an ever-growing stack of unread messages. These inactive customers aren’t just a lost opportunity. They can also affect email deliverability.

Email list churn is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be the end of a consumer relationship. Knowing why someone stopped reading in the first place can help you figure out how to win them back. Your email reactivation campaign should start with a survey to learn why readers are churning. Armed with this data, you’ll be able to create reactivation emails that address customer worries or annoyances and give them a reason to return.

Ask subscribers why they stopped reading

All the data analysis in the world won’t give you the kind of insight you can get from a simple survey. If someone has stopped reading your emails, the easiest way to find out why is by asking them.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Getting a churned reader to respond to an exit survey is difficult. Ironically, you may have the easiest time with those who take the time to click unsubscribe: Your confirmation page can ask why they no longer want to read your emails. For those inactive subscribers who skim past your emails after seeing the sender, the subject line is your only chance to get their attention.

This is not the time for subtlety or cleverness. If a consumer has churned, it means your marketing tactics aren’t capturing them at the moment. Your survey email (and its subject line) should feel not only personalized but also personal. Without deviating from your brand’s style guide, you may want to:

  • Use an individual’s name, rather than a brand name, in the from field
  • Write an email that reads like it’s meant for one individual rather than an entire email list
  • Include a sign-off or signature with a real person’s name and contact information
  • Use a respectful, empathetic tone and voice throughout the message

An inactive user is unlikely to give feedback if they don’t think anyone will listen. A successful win-back email must center your consumer rather than your brand.

Write an effective email list churn survey

Whether you’re writing up questions to go on the Unsubscribe page or a survey to be shared via email, it’s important to keep your request simple and short. Unengaged readers typically aren’t in love with your brand, which means they may not have much time to give. Each question you ask comes with the risk of a reader deciding they don’t have the time or energy to fill out your survey and closing the window before they complete it. Your job is to minimize customer frustration and make sure the survey is as easy to complete as possible.

Try to keep your survey to three or fewer questions. Make sure each request gathers an important data point and asks for unique information. For example, asking “Why did you stop reading our emails?” and “How do you feel about the frequency of our emails?” might give the same answer. If you used the second question to instead ask, “How often do would you like to receive emails?” the answers would provide important data you couldn’t have gathered with the first question.

Identify key reasons for email list churn

Once you’ve gathered the data, it’s time to examine it for trends. The process will vary depending on the type of answer you asked for. Checkboxes and radio buttons give clear-cut data because readers are choosing from pre-existing answers. It’s simply a matter of finding the most common response(s). If you gave respondents room to write out their thoughts, you will likely gather more nuanced answers but also have to reconcile the different ways people express the same sentiment. Many surveys have more than one question type, which means using different methods to make sense of the data from different questions.

Once you’ve collated all the answers, you may find a simple, easy explanation for email list churn — or you may find more than one reason for readers leaving. In the latter situation, ask yourself whether you can address multiple issues in the same re-engagement email campaign. If not, consider segmenting your lists and creating a different series of emails for each concern you identified. Failing to respond to consumer feedback is a fatal error with a reader who is only lukewarm on your brand.

Craft a campaign that addresses consumer needs

If you’ve gotten responses to your survey, congratulations: Your customers have told you how to win them back. The next step is to craft reactivation emails that provide what they are asking for. Though your strategy will vary depending on what you learned, each message in a reactivation campaign should be focused on re-earning a customer’s trust. Here are some tips on how to address common causes of email list churn.

Refocus on your target audience to increase relevancy

Personalizing emails by sticking someone’s name in the subject line won’t help if they’re not interested in what you have to offer. The content you are sending out must address the needs of the consumers you want to reach. Using one email newsletter to speak to multiple demographics with different needs just leaves everyone disappointed.

Many email lists run into this problem as they grow. It’s hard to keep up with the high content demands that come with personalization efforts. Unless you have the capacity to create multiple articles to speak to each group, your email blasts for different audiences may look 90% the same. In this situation, it’s probably more effective to focus on one group, even if it means a smaller list.

Part of refocusing on your target audience might mean letting some email subscribers go because they aren’t the right fit. This doesn’t feel good if you’re trying to decrease subscriber churn, but it provides important data about what doesn’t work.

Segment lists for less frequent readers

One of the top reasons for email list attrition is too many emails. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the best way to compete with the deluge of other emails is by sending so many you always end up near the top of someone’s inbox. This approach can backfire, cementing you in a consumer’s mind as one of the big drivers of an email overwhelm problem.

You don’t need to drown others out to get people in the habit of reading your emails. You do need to give your audience a reason to keep coming back. Instead of sending out every bit of content immediately, create a list for those who only want to hear from you one or two times a week. Still send your best content — just in fewer emails. Depending on what you learn, you may even find you can scale back email frequency for everyone without losing subscribers or engagement.

Double down on quality content to make customers feel understood

If your emails read as too sales-y or dishonest, they’re more than likely going to go straight into the trash. A surprising number of marketers still send out clickbait or other meaningless content. Getting high open rates or link clicks doesn’t matter if your reader closes the page two seconds later; in fact, it’s more likely to sour them on your brand in the long run.

Providing quality content means understanding your readers and what they want, then following through with answers they can’t find elsewhere. Use the customer pain points and questions identified in your survey as prompts for future email topics.

Use the data to improve your email marketing strategy

Email churn is inevitable, which means re-engagement campaigns need to be part of your repertoire. However, there’s no reason to wait until someone is leaving to make changes. Use the data you gather from churning readers to refine existing email marketing campaigns so you can hook new customers and increase retention. You may even want to go a step further and survey happy readers to see what they want more (and less) of.

Consumers will likely continue to struggle with email management. By 2024, the world will send (and receive) over 360 billion emails a day. That means email opens will be harder to win. If you haven’t yet mastered re-engagement emails, it’s time to get started.

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