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Valuable customers lost as email marketers told they give up too easily

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21st May 2014
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Email marketers are far too ready to throw in the towel when it comes to winning back their customers, new research suggests. The paper, Email Win-Back Programs: Everyone Recommends Them, But Do They Work?, was published by Return Path and shows that while win-back email-marketing campaigns are well worth pursuing, many marketers quash valuable customer relationships unnecessarily. 

The report notes that marketers using win-back campaigns gave up on 4% of those they mailed, ceasing to communicate with them. However, 85% of those abandoned customers were not actually inactive; at the very least they read the win-back message and chose not to unsubscribe. That means that marketers simply cut ties with potential customers, losing the investments they’d made in acquiring them. Not only was that particular investment wasted, however, but more is also then needed to recruit replacements, making this a very costly decision. 

The best-performing emails were those with straight-talking subject lines from brands who weren’t afraid of looking needy. Messages which were headed up with the likes of “miss you” and “come back” had a better success rate than ones which showed more pride. Also effective in luring back disengaged customers were messages with deals and discounts included. Among these, emails offering fixed cash deductions were read far more than those promising a certain percentage off of total spend. Interestingly though, the former is actually used less frequently.   

All of this is not to say that marketers shouldn’t still quit while they’re ahead, however. Keep emailing inactive contacts and it won’t be long before those messages start being considered as spam by their account providers. Return Path's report cites the analysis of 300 million emails which were sent out to 100 million subscribers; there was a glaring negative correlation between the amount of messages sent to inactive subscribers and which folder those messages were delivered to. Those businesses which sent the most emails to unresponsive contacts ended up with higher rates of blocked mail and were filtered into spam folders the most. Out of all email providers, Gmail seemed to be the least forgiving in its filtering process.

So, it’s all about striking the right balance; while it may be time to cool it down and stop chasing the subscriber, that doesn’t mean that you should write them off altogether. The survey found that, overall, while 12% of the win-back emails were opened within a few days of delivery, it took an average of 57 days for half of recipients to actually reengage. So, marketers shouldn’t be too hasty when it comes to wiping addresses from their mailing lists. 

Learning the habits of different email providers will also prove useful to marketers, the report says. As different platforms have different definitions of spam and varying lenience with senders of unopened emails, marketers could do well to bear their habits in mind and fashion email campaigns differently depending on the destination address.

George Bilbrey, president of Return Path commented on the findings: “As email continues to be the most powerful and cost-effective way for brands to stay connected to their customers, maximising audience growth and reaching the inbox are both critical to marketing program health. Marketers with the analytical insight to balance those factors across individual mailbox providers, using tactics like win-back campaigns, simply outperform the rest. They grow faster, form stronger relationships, and generate more revenue in increasingly competitive arenas.”

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