The cost to acquire a new customer has gone up by nearly 50% in the past five years and shows no signs of slowing down, making it more important (and cost-effective) than ever to keep your subscribers engaged. It’s normal to see engagement with your subscribers taper off a bit after they’ve been on your list a while, but if a big portion of your list isn’t opening your emails then you’re not just missing out on sales from those hard-earned contacts — you might run into deliverability problems. So, what do you do? In this post, we’ll lay out the framework for creating a reengagement campaign (sometimes called a win-back campaign) so you can not only win back your unengaged contacts and possibly generate some immediate sales, but also clean up your list so you can avoid winding up in the spam folder.

Reengagement campaigns in thirty seconds

A reengagement campaign is an email series you send to contacts who haven’t opened an email in anywhere from two months to a year. Like most campaigns, the goal is to get them to open your emails by using a strong incentive in the subject line. An effective reengagement campaign may lead to sales, but its primary focus is lowering list churn rates, boosting incremental engagement, and maintaining inbox placement rates by cleansing your list. But unlike promotional campaigns, if that doesn’t work you ask them to update their preferences — and if they still don’t engage, you remove these contacts from your list entirely so they don’t drag down engagement metrics and impact deliverability.

3 reasons why you should be running a reengagement campaign

Bronto marketing strategist Sara Luu laid out three reasons brands should consider reengagement campaigns before their unengaged user segments gets out of hand.

1. They protect your deliverability rates.

“Deliverability problems are a mess to clean up, and ISPs like Gmail and Microsoft recognize when you have a trend of sending to people who aren’t opening, and they start sending your messages to spam folders.” Having a large portion of unengaged contacts can damage your sender reputation, leading to inbox placement issues. These unengaged subscribers make up 60% of email lists on average, and running an ongoing reengagement campaign helps keep your list healthy.

2. You’ll have more accurate engagement metrics.

“Open rates decline over time, and no matter what, there are some people who are just going to fall off the wagon and have a trend of not opening, artificially dragging down your open rates.” You can’t accurately test how your active, interested subscribers respond to your campaigns if your email metrics are being impacted by people who simply won’t open or click, no matter how enticing or creative your subject lines, offers, designs, and CTAs are.

3.  It costs much less to reengage contacts than to acquire new ones.

“It’s not only important for deliverability and metrics, reengagement is cheaper than acquiring a new visitor,” said Luu. Five times cheaper, in fact. “SEO, PPC, display all factor into acquisition costs, and they’re much more expensive than sending a few emails.” You already spend enough time and resources acquiring new contacts. Each unengaged contact you bring back is effectively a new contact. And, the success rate of selling to a customer you already have is 60-70%.

Decide who qualifies for your reengagement segment

We’re not talking about contacts who haven’t made a purchase in a while, or even subscribers who only click once a week, or even once a month. “Pull segments of people who haven’t opened in the past 60 days, 90 days, 120 days, all the way to a year,” Sara said. You can even set your segments based on users who haven’t opened the past 10 messages — this is dependent on your overall strategy and sending cadence. Having those various segments gives you insight into how and when users become unengaged, but you’ll want to pick a single point to mark when you start your campaign.

Setting up your reengagement workflow in six steps

Once you’ve decided what constitutes as unengaged, throttle the promotional emails they receive and put them into your reengagement workflow.

1. The first email: Hey, come back to us

Get their attention by providing value and mentioning it clearly in your subject line. If your contacts haven’t been responding to your helpful how-to content, guides, loyalty programs and other offers, then that usually means offering an incentive. “If your margins don’t allow for percentage discounts, try a free gift with purchase since there’s no big hit to your margins,” Sara said. “Or a flat dollar-off, so you can control your margins through the purchase amount. You can even try a sweepstakes or giveaway.”

2. The second email: Don’t forget our offer

Wait a week or two, then remind them of the offer in your first message.

3. The third email: Up the ante

If they’re still not opening your messages, send another email with a larger incentive to see if that catches their attention. “What you want to do is use your best offer possible. Lure them with a strong subject line that calls out a strong offer you don’t usually run,” Sara says. If your users open any of these emails, even if they don’t make a purchase, consider them active again and place them in your normal sending list.

4. The final email: Make up or break up

Assuming that your messages aren’t going to an unused email address or folder they never read, it’s possible that they’ve just become accustomed to seeing offers and skipping past them — so this is where things get a little different. “If they still aren’t engaging, you can catch their attention with a subject line that’s different from what you send in promotional messages,” Sara says. “Something out of the ordinary like ‘Hey, is this it?’ or ‘Is this goodbye?’ may finally get their attention.” In this message, you more or less ask if they want to keep hearing from you. Make a point of calling out the option to update their preferences for content, email frequency, and time.

5. Move them to an unengaged segment

At this point, you’ve pulled out all the stops and they’re not responding. Maybe they just finally ditched that old AOL account, use a new company email address, or your messages are winding up in a spam folder. Whatever the reason, these contacts have become unengaged and will only continue to bring your metrics down. You should move them to a new segment with a much lower send cadence, maybe one email every few weeks and on your biggest promotions, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. “Set up a workflow node that will move them back to a regular workflow with a reduced send cadence if they open up any marketing deliveries in six months, anything,” Sara said. Even if they do nothing but open a single email, it indicates that you’ve got an active email address.

6. Finally, remove them

They may be seasonal shoppers who only interact with your brand during Black Friday or for a particular person, but a year is enough time for them to engage with you. “If they don’t open anything, and it’s been a year by then, that’s when I recommend unsubscribing users,” Sara said. According to Marketing Sherpas, marketers lose 23% of their email list each year on average due to regular attrition. If you just put them back on your regular list, you’re going to start running into those deliverability issues we mentioned as those unengaged users build over year over year.

Measuring the success of your reengagement campaign

At the end of the day, any opens are successful, even if they lead to a reduced send cadence or an unsubscribe. But if you want to gauge how your campaign performed, you have a few options:
  • Look at the size of the unengaged segment. A quick way to see if it’s working is to look at the segment’s size: If it goes down, then your campaign is working. Even a 5­­‑10% swing is successful.
  • Check your reengagement campaign’s open rate. A 3-5% open rate is considered strong — you can’t expect these metrics to be as good as your typical promotional campaigns with engaged subscribers.
  • Look at how much reengaged contacts purchase. Put them on a new list and look at how much revenue is coming in after reengaging them.
Remember, the ultimate goal here is to keep them from hurting your inbox placement, and an unsubscribed user who was never going to purchase is better than one who continues to never open an email (or purchase).

What happens next?

If they reengage during this workflow, add them to a nurture workflow and handle them differently, with more specific emails guiding them to a purchase. Reintroduce them to your brand and nurture your “new” shoppers into repeat customer like you would with a post-purchase campaign, in that honeymoon phase when engagement rates are as high as they’ll ever be.