Email marketing has suffered some blows recently. But companies that threaten to stop using that marketing channel certainly get noticed. Rumors of Ben & Jerry's killing its email newsletter created a mild tempest online recently. Just this week, The Onion's AV Club stopped email messages, and Pepsi created ire among fans for simply moving some of its messaging from Facebook to Twitter

Now there's a study that says email marketers aren't adapting their marketing emails to customer changes. They're sending messages to unresponsive email accounts, and according to Return Path, only 12.5% of marketers are doing anything about it.

Return Path, a provider of email deliverability and reputation management services, analyzed email from 40 retailers who sent messages to former customers who never opened, clicked or purchased goods for over a year and a half.

Eleven of the companies studied (27%) eventually stopped sending email to non-responsive subscribers. According to The One-Way Conversation: Email Marketing to the Non-Responsive Subscriber, 10 of those never tried to reengage the customer or asking from a response from the customer about the messages.

Only 5 of those 40 companies did anything to get the subsscribers' attention again. And none of those messages were customized, or paid attention to past history or purchases.

According to Stephanie Colleton, Director of Professional Services at Return Path:

"We strongly recommend that email marketers, not just e-retailers, monitor their subscriber responses - opens, click-throughs and conversions - and adapt their campaigns to either slow down the emails to once per month or send a re-permission email to determine subscribers' continued interest in receiving emails."

Another problem is that sending messages to non-responsive subscribers increases a company's chances of ending up in the spam filter. According to Return Path:

"When non-responsive subscribers receive a steady stream of emails, or in some cases an increased frequency of emails, they will often begin reporting those emails as spam driving up the marketer's complaint rate."

Social media has recently been winning attention away from email for marketing messages and part of the reason is due to the fact that those messages are more explictly opt-in. Consumers can can easily tune in or out of social media channels, sometimes easier than they can unsubscribe from email newsletters and tune back in later. 

One benefit that email has over social media is the many ways that its effectiveness can be tracked. Once a person follows a brand in social media, there's no way to know if s/he has seen a message unless it is retweeted or clicked. Email is more easily monitored. But those numbers don't mean anything if brands ignore them.

As Bonnie Malone, Director of Professional Services, for Return Path puts it:

"There is a widespread perception that email is 'free.' But that is not true — most retailers pay a 3 to 5 cent CPM to service providers to send email, which sounds small but really starts to add up when you consider that these lists can include hundreds of thousands of emails. Continuing to send to addresses that never respond is a waste of money and leads to deliverability problems that erode the program's effectiveness."

Meghan Keane

Published 19 August, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (3)


Andrew Bonar

I find myself teling my clients this on an almost daily basis. It is imperative to re-engage as soon as possible, or get rid of non responsive subscribers. There is no benefit to having them on your lists if they are no longer engaged.

almost 8 years ago


Ellen Violette

Thanks for the reminder. I don't think most people really pay attention to this!

If people are serious about seeing their conversion rates and working with nonresponsive subscribers they need a program like Infusionsoft that helps you do it. And the good thing is you can get tutorials and support to help you learn how.  

almost 8 years ago


Vee Sweeney

Since social media exploded, I really feel like companies are putting all their bets on social media and that is taking their attention away from other marketing campaigns that they used to use. These companies are missing customers, missing sales and failing to realize that it is never good to put all of the eggs in one basket. All of us in any sort of marketing know that trends come and go and while social media is thriving now, there is no guarantee that it is going to continue to do so in the future and then these companies will have nothing to fall back on. 

almost 8 years ago

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