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A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece on the rules of email engagement, very much laying out fairly broad thoughts on the subject.

Now I want to follow up with a more pointed ‘plan’ that, if followed, will ensure a virtuous spiral of engagement and increased ROI...

That is a horribly glib statement, something that a Californian ‘guru’ might pen, so let's preface these comments with two facts:

  1. You cannot sell to someone who isn’t listening, or, to put it another way, if a customer is not opening and reading your email, you cannot influence them into purchasing.
  2. A customer engaged with your email is six times more valuable than a dis-engaged customer.

So, a focus on engagement is critical to the development of the email channel, and I would suggest the following ten-point plan for building a successful engagement strategy:


Firstly, if you have not already then you must start by changing your mindset on one important point: there is no point in emailing customers who have disengaged from your programme.

Their behaviour is a clue, they really don’t want to know and as their data gets older they start to attract the attention of ISPs and trap addresses.


Decide what engagement means to your organisation. For a retailer optimum engagement may be clicking through and browsing once per week, but for an insurance company this may stretch out as far as 11 months and may only be truly relevant during the renewal cycle.

This will define the rules around which you will track engagement.


Next, segment your base on engagement. Which of your customers has engaged with your email programme in the last week and which have not opened an email in two months, six months, 12 months? Who has never opened? Who are still in the welcome programme?

Contact Strategy

This step is fairly obvious. Devise a contact strategy based on the level of engagement. For ‘the super engaged’, those customers who open every email, you can step up the mailing programme and mail them more often.

For the disengaged, as I have stated, trying to re-engage with these mostly former customers is valuable but at a far less frequent basis.

Segment again

Now it is time to segment again and introduce more relevant content. Most organisations can now fully integrate email and analytics data which provides the email marketer with customer value and browsing data at a customer level.

At this point, it's time to review the process, and to take on board mindset change number two. True engagement email marketing is based on engaging with the customer on their terms.

Whilst a customer agrees to receive emails from you when they sign up, they will not be in the buying window when you choose to email them. Engagement email marketing responds and interacts with the customer on their terms, with offers relevant to them based on products and services they are interested in at the moment.

It’s not going to replace the ‘email newsletter’, but it will ensure that when you have got a client engaged your email marketing is relevant and in step with them. This way you maximise your chances of making a sale. What gives you this information? The browsing behaviour available in your integrated email and analytics database.

Back to the plan…


Take your segmentation and automate it to increase return on investment and do more with the same resource. Establish automated programmes and siphon engaged customers away from standard newsletters and into programmes more likely to convert them.

Reassess your newsletter goal

As more and more customers are being managed in more relevant segments away from the main newsletter, use the newsletter to focus solely on improving engagement by changing the tone, offer and strategies based on customer value segments.

The disengaged

As a rule, a customer engaged with your email programme is six times more valuable than one who isn’t. So, set in place alternative strategies, such as ‘we miss you’ campaigns and surveys to reinvigorate them.


Identify lapsing behaviour. Analyse your customer behaviour and try to identify typical behavioural patterns of a customer about to lapse. Your ESP will have segmentation tools that can drop customers into alternative programmes based purely on re-establishing former engagement patterns.


Crucially, we cannot discuss with every customer exactly what they believe is the perfect email. But we have two key pointers. Firstly, behaviour, of which engagement is the number one factor… Do they read and click your emails? If open rates and click rates are going up then you are making improvements.

But, if I can be more vulgar, engaged customers convert more often. And that is the rub, because improving engagement increases income.  

Matthew Kelleher

Published 9 February, 2010 by Matthew Kelleher

Matthew Kelleher is commercial director as RedEye and a contributor to Econsultancy.

27 more posts from this author

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