Guest Column | March 12, 2021

Accentuate The Positive – Building A Strategy For Disengaged Email Subscribers

By Kate Nowrouzi, Pathwire

message email

In email marketing terms, disengaged subscribers are an inevitable fact of life. One obvious indicator of their interest – email open rates – will vary according to factors such as the industry sector, but most marketing emails, for example, have an open rate of somewhere between 20-25%. For many organizations, subscribers are easily won but harder to retain, and the result is that email lists are often full of disengaged contacts.

Why is this? People sign up to mailing lists for a variety of reasons. It’s often about being interested in or engaged with a brand, product, or service, but consumers also agree to become subscribers with little more than a short-term desire – and often a requirement – to benefit from something like an in-store or online discount. Recent research helps illustrate the key drivers: 56.4% of people say they subscribe to regularly receive special offers, and 52.5% sign up to newsletters to receive a one-off discount.

But wherever the tipping point lies, initial subscriber relationships must engender positive engagement if they are to last beyond even the first interaction. This relies on the recipient opening emails and viewing content that is engaging or valuable enough so they click on links or respond to messages. In many cases, however, people immediately report subscription emails as spam, delete them, or aren’t simply motivated to open them in the first place. For those who don’t want to engage, organizations have some important decisions to make: continue to contact them in the hope that things change, work hard to foster engagement, or remove them from the subscriber list.

There is a range of initiatives that can help companies strike a more effective balance between positive and negative engagement. First, brands need to ensure they’re sending their messages to real, legitimate email addresses. By asking for a double opt-in, the subscriber types in the email address twice to confirm the subscription, and in doing so, ensure they have the correct address going forward. Similarly, validation is the quickest and easiest way to scan a mailing list to identify any inactive or nonexistent contacts on the list.

Next, re-engagement campaigns can help boost the interest of people whose interest in a subscription has lapsed, or who never got started. For example, some brands haven’t learned how to adapt their messaging or wider email strategy to retain subscribers, or how focusing on re-engagement can act as an effective motivator. A well-designed campaign can offer a fresh start for companies to build relationships with subscribers, enabling them to update preferences and maximize the impact of their marketing efforts in the long term.

Eliminate The Negative

Minimizing negative engagement should also feature in any rounded subscription-based campaign, as it’s almost inevitable that subscribers will simply lose interest in brands and content over time or find their original need for engaging may have been satisfied.

Whatever the reason, the risks are the same. Disengaged subscribers don't open or click on emails, which means they make open rates and click rates lower. ISPs look at these engagement metrics to determine the quality of a brand's email communications and take this information into account when deciding whether to send emails to spam or the inbox.

This is important. In the rush to maximize subscriber numbers, it’s vital to remember that online marketing is about getting the right message to the right people, and this is at its most effective when email subscription programs are founded on mutual trust and offer value to every stakeholder. If disengaged subscribers hurt engagement rates, then that means they can harm your ability to land in the inbox and get those valuable messages in front of your audience.

So, if users don't respond despite re-engagement efforts, organizations should notify them that they will remove them as a subscriber. At this stage, some people will decide to re-engage, but removing those who don’t helps clean the overall list.

In practical terms, if a user hasn’t opened an email in 90 days, then that should offer a strong indication that they aren’t likely to in the future and it’s time to move on. And remember, disengaged subscribers aren’t just a drag on the time and resources (and impact) of marketing teams, they can be the cause of other serious problems.

Attempting to communicate with disengaged subscribers is neither a good use of resources nor strategically savvy for organizations who are protective over their online reputation. Instead, building focused email subscription lists can significantly enhance the ability of organizations to build long-term relationships and brand loyalty.