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Depressingly, the life of an email marketer is one of minorities, even the best email campaigns are opened by just a tiny minority of people. 

And as a result, every one of us has mused at one point or another, 'How can I get these non-opening 80% to engage with me again?'

And so we send out re-engagement campaigns, get a couple or three percent response, and think we’ve done a great job.

Phil Manger of Future Publishing and I thought this logic was faulty and that we could do better. The results? We bettered a traditional re-activation campaign by 255%. 

Want to find out how? Read on. 

The title we focused on for this test was MusicRadar.com, a site that’s all about guitars, drums, and other such musical things that interest this up and coming London band, among thousands of other rockers, metalheads, punks, and even the odd hipster or two.

It had a number of people on their email list who were, in the traditional sense of the word, dis-engaged. For any of you reading who send out regular, information-based email newsletters, you’ll have heard this term before.

'Dis-engaged.' Generally, what this means is in the last X months, they’ve not opened or clicked on one of your emails. And, well, this is really annoying. Your content is great, your emails look beautiful, what gives? 

Is it personal? You should for sure take it personally. You should feel very, very hurt about this. 

What people normally do is send out a “Please love me” email

The prevailing logic in email marketing is to follow this logic:

  1. Pick an arbitrary date that defines dis-engagement (say, three months).
  2. Create a segment for that group.
  3. Send them an email that asks them to confirm they want to keep getting your messages.

This method, when done well, usually elicits about a 2-5% re-engagement rate. 

The thing is, it takes time to create the segment and write the email.  What Phil and I wondered was, 'Is it worth the time?  What is the true ROI of this method?”

So, we ran a test.

A three sample random controlled experiment

We limited this experiment to cover point #3 above, to see if sending the 'please confirm your interest' email is the dominant strategy or not in this situation. 

Note that the scope of this experiment was limited to this one point. An interesting test would be to look at time-series engagement data, determining optimal re-engagement points, and sending out emails at those points. 

But, since this is a simple blog post and not a novel, that’s a topic to be looked at another time in another experiment.

Anyways, the arbitrary date we picked to identify 'non-engaged records' was three months, and the segment we created contained all non-openers and non-clickers from that period. We randomized the list and split it into three equal groups:

  1. Control: These records got sent the email newsletter as per normal.
  2. Re-activation: These records got a “Click here to confirm” email.
  3. Re-sends: These records got the same email newsletter as #1 but re-sent to non-openers daily for seven days after the initial send.

Our logic was simple: the control group, or 'doing nothing,' is the easiest option.  The re-activation group is the hardest option. The re-send group is the middle ground – you’re just re-purposing content, so all you have to do is click a couple buttons to automate the re-sends and it magically runs itself after that. 

Here’s what the newsletter looked like:

MusicRadar Newsletter

And here’s what the re-activation email looked like:

MusicRadar Re-activation Email

Also, we wanted to give the re-activation group the best chance possible, so we split test three subject lines to a subset of the segment, and sent the 'winner' to all others. 

Then, we re-sent to non-clickers three days after the initial send (all of this was automated.) We wanted to ensure that we were giving the re-activation email every opportunity available to ensure that our experiment’s results were useful and robust.

Methodology

Just to set your expectations, we’re not going to discuss Future’s exact list size here, or the number of dis-engaged records. That’s commercially sensitive information! 

Instead, what we’re going to do is look at the relative lift delivered by each of the above methods.

We’re going to consider the Control Group as the baseline, and look at how much better or worse groups two and three performed when compared to it. 

In essence this is what matters – the nominal numbers are just numbers; the relative numbers provide insight that you can apply in your own re-engagement strategy.

Nerd alert: the methodology we used treated each group was a normal approximation of a binomial distribution with a continuity correction. 

Using this method passed the basic litmus test of validity (where np >= 10 and np(1-p)>=10.) We then used standard hypothesis testing to determine the level of statistical significance.  In essence we were comparing means of binary results (did re-engage or did not re-engage) on large data sets. 

Therefore, while other methodologies also may have been valid, we are confident that the following results are statistically robust. 

Ok, enough caveats and waffling, how about some results?

Results: re-activation email

The Re-activation message got a wee bit of traction, about a 5% uplift on the Control Group. Prevailing email marketing logic would give Phil and the MusicRadar team a hardy pat on the back. Well done dudes!

Hang on though. When putting the result through the rigors of statistical significance, a paltry 70% confidence level reared its ugly head. If this were a clinical trial for a new pharmaceutical, you’d run the risk of killing a lot of people

If this were an email campaign (which it was) then you run the risk of spending a lot of time and money constructing re-activation campaign when there is no conclusive evidence that it delivers higher results than simply doing nothing. 

Results: seven days of re-sends to non-openers

The Re-send method, so re-sending the newsletter daily for seven days to non-openers, got lots of traction.

Typical right? An email guy writing a blog about how sending out more emails is better than not. I’ve heard this before

Well, we’re not making it up. Here’s the stats:

Resends vs Control group: 255% uplift, >99.9% confidence

Resends vs Reactivation group: 237% uplift, >99.9% confidence

The results don’t lie. A huge uplift delivered great results, and the incredible confidence level indicates an extremely high likelihood of this experiment being repeatable over and over again. 

By simply clicking a few buttons and re-sending the same campaign out multiple times, Phil and the MusicRadar team generated more than triple the re-activations when compared with either doing nothing or sending a traditional re-activation message. 

But don’t take it from me

Here’s what Phil from Future Publishing has to say about it:

Initially, we thought that the re-activation message gave a great customer experience… except in the end, no customers experienced it!  By re-sending our campaign multiple times, we were easily able to re-activate a huge number of records on our list… with no people or design cost, just pure transmission.

Less work and more emails drove higher response in this experiment

What we’re not saying is 'send out the same email 100 times.' But, if you’re planning on a re-activation campaign and are hoping for the standard response rates, aren’t you selling yourself short? 

When considering the total cost of a re-engagement email, that is the time spent writing the copy, getting it approved, uploading it into your email platform and so on, does it really deliver ROI?

Have a go!  Run this test for yourself and see what the results are. The truth may surprise you.

Do you have any success or failure stories about re-activating your lists?  Share them below in the comments section. 

Parry Malm

Published 2 December, 2013 by Parry Malm

Parry Malm is the CEO of Phrasee and a contributor to Econsultancy. Connect with him on LinkedInTwitter or Google+.

23 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Alden

I've thought of something like this, but I guess as a marketer, the real question is why bother? If it took 7 delivers to get the message through, was it really the type of lead that actually turns into a customer?

What would be interesting is comparing the lead value for the leads that re-engaged with the re-send method vs. those that engage with normal messages, possibly after 6 months out. See if those customers were actually worth engaging with.

Secondly, was there any bad press from this? How did unsubscribe rates do with the control vs. the 2 tested methods. Were there any nasty emails from people receiving this email too many times? Interesting idea.

over 2 years ago

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webmoghuls

Great article. Really enjoyed it.

over 2 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

Great test and one not often performed.

I'd say it was more a frequency / pressure test than a test of what actual email gives the better response.

What if the "re-activation" email had been sent out daily for seven days to non-openers?

Bet it would have beaten the control by way more than a statistically not significant 5%.

Though I do believe one of the best ways to re-engage someone is to provide them something they want rather than just ask them are they engaged or not!

over 2 years ago

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Jordie van Rijn, email marketing specialist at emailmonday

Parry, great idea.

How about comparing the 7 "re-sends" to the effect of 7 normal frequency sends of the control mail (normal newsletter)?

Can you share how many of the inactives turned out to be active, only to opt-out? And what the distribution was over these emails? howmany turned active at #7?

Of course the reactivation email could also be a series of 7 and be a bit more geared towards getting people to become active again. As Tim pointed out, offering value is important, so re-activating series is a great opportunity to emphasize the value of being an active subscriber.

You only need to do that once, and automate the process. Making the costs per re-activation e-mail to be mostly a one time investment.

over 2 years ago

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Karate Kid

What a great unearthing! Wise words for those faecal flinging monkeys out there. Mr Miyagi once said:

"The monkey who hurls the most excrement,
is the monkey who hits the most people"

As soon as you start applying door-to-door sales tactics into email marketing you are already ringing the wrong bell. It's no surprise that if you keep knocking on the doors that haven't opened you will see an "uplift" in doors that do open. Keep on knocking and, as long as someone lives there, most will open eventually. You will, however, also see an "uplift" in angry rottweilers greeting you on the other side.

Reading the other comments, the consensus seems to be, you haven't really told us any thing new, nor have you really told us how to re-engage with non-responders.

Does 1 open or 1 click in the last 3 months indicate a recipients desire for 3 more months of emails?

Is this really healthy or beneficial to those who are dedicated openers and clickers?

Have you really tackled the underlying issue?

over 2 years ago

Parry Malm

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee Ltd.

Hi all - just to clarify the intention of the experiment - it was simply to determine the efficacy of traditional "re-activation" emails. So let's bear in mind the scope was by defined limited, and therefore the results are.

@Aiden - bear in mind that this title is an ad-driven vehicle. Your idea to test out lead value from re-activated emails is a neat one and one that I very well may try out with another client. However it's not relevant in the MusicRadar context.

@Tim - fair enough point, although my main intention was to test out an easy solution (a bunch of re-sends) vs a hard solution (creating a customized re-activation email.) So the ant vs the grasshopper so to speak.

@Jordie - the resposne dropoff followed about a 4 day half life; so, the response level on the 4th day was 1/2 of the first day, and on the last day 1/2 of the 4th day. I suspect the biggest wins are to simply do a couple of re-sends. Having a fully automated re-activation campaign is indeed ideal - but once again, outside the scope of the experiment.

@Karate Kid - I understand your point; this experiment was to re-activate an arbitrarily decided group of inactives. So if you've learned nothing new, well, that's a shame, although thanks for taking the time to comment on the redundancy of the experiment!

Mr. Miyagi also ensured that Ralph knew how to wax on, wax off, and paint the fence, and to use those actions when the situation warrants. I suppose the main thing I learned from this experiment is that most email marketers have learned wax on, wax off - and use that in every situation - when sometimes, paint the fence is the dominant strategy.

over 2 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

@Parry - hmm, easy solution vs hard. Anyone having a hard time creating a single re-activation email like the one featured needs to change ESP :-)

Well, granted seven re-sends of an existing email is easier than creating a specific email as shown, I just wouldn't call the other hard - I create simple emails like this for clients in a couple of hours.

over 2 years ago

Parry Malm

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee Ltd.

@Tim it's on a relative scale I suppose - 2 hours vs 2 minutes :) Anyways, it's broadly a moot point if the damn things don't work in the first place!

over 2 years ago

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Jordie van Rijn, email marketing specialist at emailmonday

Parry and Karate-Kid, Mr. Myagi also tought us how to focus. Something that the monkeys in your example don't do, but which is ever so important in email marketing:

http://www.emailmonday.com/effective-email-marketing-add-focus-to-your-email-promotion

over 2 years ago

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Bill Kaplan

Interesting test and results but deficient in a number of ways:
1) If you message unengaged people 7 times in 7 days, you're increasing the risk of irritating these people, thereby prompting them to hit the "This is spam" button. Given that spam complaints are one of the three critical factors that result in blocking or blacklisting, marketers need to be very careful to keep their spam complaint rates as low as possible. In other words, getting a few more engaged customers might not be worth the risk of bringing your email program to a grinding halt. Please note that the average spam complaint threshold used by the leading ISPs is .3%.

2) Reactivation campaigns should provide your former customers with an offer to get them re-engaged. Offers and promotions work better than "Wouldn't you like to hear from us more?"

3) 255% lift in response? This analysis reminds me of how easy it is to lie with statistics. A lift of 255% from a .1% baseline in all likelihood is meaningless. Track the costs of your re-engagement campaign versus the returns from new sales or the lifetime value of these newly engaged customers so you can see what your real ROI is.

4) Most importantly, the vast majority of your un-engaged or non-responders are the result of your emails reaching inboxes your customers are no longer reading. Email addresses churn at a rate of ~30% per year. Accordingly, the majority of your nonresponder email addresses are email accounts that people no longer read. To re-engage these lost customers, one should utilize an Email Change of Address (ECOA) service to reach your customers at their preferred email addresses. By tieing an ECOA service with an attractive win-back campaign, many companies experience higher opens, click-throughs, and purchase orders (and donations) than they see from their house accounts while also winning back many customers for future transactions. See http://www.freshaddress.com/services/email-change-of-address-ecoa/ for details on how leading marketers and nonprofits are keeping their lists up-to-date.

Email marketing doesn't need to be rocket science. If you want to re-engage former customers and maximize the revenue potential locked in your customer database, send them relevant communications on a regular basis and keep your list as fresh and up-to-date as possible. After all, you can't drive sales through email if your emails aren't being read.

over 2 years ago

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Bill Kaplan, CEO at FreshAddress, Inc.

Great article but there's one major component to a successful email re-activation cmapaign that's missing: ensuring that the campaign is being sent to email accounts people are still reading.

From our experience at FreshAddress working with 25% of the Fortune 100 and many leading marketers and nonprofits, many of the inactives in a marketer's file are the result of sending emails to dormant accounts… like the ones Yahoo purged last summer. Sending emails to these dormant accounts might not cost much but it’s not going to drive engagement or revenues because no one’s reading these emails anymore.

If your re-engagement program does not bring specific customers back, marketers should remove these inactives from their files and run them through an ECOA service to re-engage these customers at their current preferred addresses. What’s the benefit of developing great creative, promotions, and campaigns if your emails are not being read?

For further details on how leading marketers are reconnecting with customers lost to inactive or bouncing email addresses, see http://www.freshaddress.com/services/email-change-of-address-ecoa/

almost 2 years ago

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