12 ideas for turning inactive email subscribers into avid brand followers

Last Updated on August 4, 2021 by Alex Birkett

Does looking at your email open rates disappoint you? Do click-through rates make you sad even more?

If your answer is “yes,” you may have an issue with inactive subscribers.

Should you put them to the grave or is there some hope in regaining your subscribers’ interest with more targeted email marketing? In this article, I am going to show you easy to implement and effective tactics to deal with inactive email subscribers, so you don’t have to increase your email marketing budget to gain more sign-ups.

Here, you won’t find a chaotic bucket list of ideas on email list activation which most marketers would write about.

In this article, we will start by getting to the root of the problem and then find ways to make your subscribers excited about reading your content again.

1. Identify the reason for inactivity

Before we go through the ideas on activating your email list, let’s start with one of the most difficult tasks – identifying the reason for inactivity of your email subscribers.

If you haven’t figured out this one yet, all ideas you will read about in this article won’t work. You need to nail your audience first.

Also, remember that emails have a long journey from the “Delivered” status to clicked. Make sure you understand this journey first.

So what can be the reasons for inactivity? Here are some, but you can definitely think of more.

1. Emails land in their spam folder

Solution – improve the sender reputation. Review your automation flows from time to time. Some of your subscribers might receive duplicate emails that would irritate them. As a result, they send your emails to a spam folder.

2. Your audience is too busy

Solution – A/B test hours when you send email. Experiment with the length of your emails and their format. Find a formula for busy subscribers.

3. Your content is too basic or too complex

Solution – make sure you understand the content needs of your audience. Run surveys on a small group of people to identify trends and preferences. Use Facebook groups to reach such people. Send this to your friends who fit the profile of your ideal buyer persona.

Now, the time has come for the worst one…

4. You have the wrong people on your list

Solution – if that’s the case, there is not much to be done, but you can still rethink your channels of subscriber acquisition. For example, you can identify Facebook as the channel that generates subscribers with low engagement. Try and rethink your strategy on this channel (you might be doing something wrong) and/or focus on the channel that brings active subscribers.

5. Your email deliverability is low

Bounced emails are one of the reasons why your subscriber won’t even see your content. Most email service providers (ESP) usually display a reason for which the message was rejected. Make sure you analyze email deliverability statistics as well!

Also, remember that choosing a reliable SMTP provider can help keep email deliverability high.

2. A/B test subject lines

If you have a low open rate, a bad subject line might be to blame. By A/B testing your headlines, you can discover some template that works the best with your audience.

Here are some of the elements you can A/B test when it comes to a subject line.

  1. Word order
  2. Headline length
  3. Headline content
  4. Additional elements e.g. emojis
  5. Personalization aspect

The devil is in the details – even a small change can result in an incremental boost in open rate. For example, changing a sender from a generic email to a personal one can improve your open rate significantly.

Just make sure you are A/B testing your headlines on a small chunk of your email list. Only once you have a winning variant, should you send the final campaign to the whole list. This functionality isn’t available with all email software, but it’s definitely worth using if your preferred platform allows it.

3. Better segmentation

Still sending the same email campaign to all your subscribers? No wonder that most of them consider your content as irrelevant. Instead of sending bulk emails, start segmenting your list based on various criteria. Here are some of them.

  • Demographics

This includes age, sex, gender, company position, and related.

  • Geographic location

You can consider sending some exclusive discounts for local holidays or use locations as a way to personalize your email campaign and connect with an inactive segment of your email base.

  • Last activity

Consider sending different emails to both active and inactive subscribers. Your inactive subscribers might react to a discount on some of your products. Otherwise, they would not take any action at all!

  • Past purchases

This especially applies to eCommerce businesses. In your marketing emails, you can remind customers to purchase again once their supplies run out.

  • New and old subscribers

Send more general, introductory emails or content that would warm up new subscribers. Prepare different content for those who have been with you for longer. Keep your messaging consistent.

4. Prepare a special offer

Have some of your subscribers browsed your sales pages but haven’t bought anything yet? Consider giving them a small nudge. Send a tailored exclusive offer with a hefty discount to get them in the buying mode. Consider making it more engaging by embedding a video into the email.

5. Add advanced personalization

I guess you are already using some simple personalization.

However, that’s no longer sufficient in the world where email marketers have already started using artificial intelligence to send more targeted emails. If you want to go the extra mile with personalization, consider these tactics.

  • Product recommendations

Connect the dots between your subscriber’s browsing history with the past purchases. Recommend products or send content that would relate to your user’s interests. For example, this brand is sending an email campaign showing recently browsed items that a user hasn’t bought yet.

  • Re-engagement campaigns

Trigger re-engagement emails after a certain period of time has passed. Encourage subscribers to adjust their email preferences such as receiving emails on certain topics only and selecting the best time to send emails.

  • Apply dynamic content

Instead of preparing dozens of different content versions, automate this process by applying dynamic content to your campaigns. With the necessary technology, you can easily adjust email content based on different criteria such as previously browsed items or a visited sales page.

6. Collect feedback

In some cases, all the tips in the world won’t help.

Whatever you do to engage your audience is futile. In these situations, you should consider stepping back, taking a deep breath, and… making a survey. Run some surveys or prepare personalized quizzes for your subscribers to gather their feedback at scale. What you do for conversion optimization research can also apply to figuring out your opportunity areas for email marketing.

Pro tip: when asking for feedback, you can also prompt folks to reply directly to your emails.

According to Zach Grove, an email marketing consultant and early employee at the email provider Drip, getting replies can help you get more of your emails seen in the first place.

“When ISPs like Gmail see people replying to your company’s branded emails, it helps keep your emails out of the spam folder and Gmail promotions tab. Replies signal to ISPs that your emails are relevant—since users typically reply to friends, family, and other senders they want to hear from.”

However you choose to ask, make sure to get your subscribers’ opinion on the type of content they prefer and, most importantly, what they don’t like about your emails. Once you get the results, you can draw some conclusions on what needs improvement.

7. Organize a contest

Not everyone will want to buy your products from day one. However, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best to build awareness about your brand. In some situations, a contest can serve as a bridge between a lack of engagement to the first sale.

If you are thinking of organizing one, make sure you have in mind these best practices for organizing contests.

  • Make rules simple

Make it that simple so a six-year old can understand. If your contest rules can’t be described with a sentence or two, it will turn away a lot of your subscribers.

  • Use a good incentive

Encourage people to take action by offering something valuable to them. Don’t be afraid to mention the price of your giveaway products.

  • Define your review process

Make it clear how a winner is selected and when the results are made public.

  • Explain contest timeline

Balance contest duration depending on how difficult it is to perform contest tasks for your subscribers. If you require only a click of button to enter a contest, make it and play on urgency.

8. Use retargeting ads

Companies are sending way too many emails these days. Just look at your mailbox – it should be bursting at the seams! As your goal is to stand out in your customer’s mind, you should be using other channels where you can remind a subscriber about your brand.

Set up a retargeting campaign on Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Quora – whatever brings the best results for your brand. Use social media management tools to avoid all the hassle of engaging with your subscribers. Then, direct your customers back to your webpage, collect some more information on what they like and dislike, and adjust your dynamic email campaigns respectively.

Here is how New York Times is attempting to re-engage their free trial users. NYT are offering an additional discount on a 1-year subscription.

9. Remind the reason for signing up

There is always a reason for clicking the “Subscribe Now” button, so keep reminding subscribers their “whys” from time to time.

You could have offered high-quality resources, the best discounts, the cheapest products, or the best customer support.

Check out the creative way of how Grammarly is reminding their users about their mission.

10. Follow up on a previous email

You have tried all these tips, but it hasn’t moved a needle yet? Then, it’s time to apply the good old technique of following up your subscribers. Remember to segment your follow up emails as well. When sending a campaign you usually end up with either of these situations.

  1. People don’t open email
  2. People open, but don’t click
  3. People open and click, but don’t buy

Well, apart from this, your email can go to spam and fail to deliver as well!

No matter what situation you are in, consider sending different content. Let’s analyze the first scenario. Your subscriber has opened an email, but hasn’t clicked. Follow up with another email in a bit and give more incentive to click and buy a product.

11. Analyze your campaign results

While you are experimenting with different tactics to turn your inactive subscribers into avid brand followers, always measure the impact. Define your success criteria for each experiment and introduce changes one by one to learn what experiment has brought results. For email campaigns, there are three metrics you should measure on a weekly basis.

  • Email open rate
  • Email clickthrough rate
  • Actual sales

12. Hit “Unsubscribe”

Now, as we have looked at most ways to re-engage your subscriber list, we are left with one tactic – your worst case scenario.

Deleting followers should be the last option you should go for when you don’t see any progress with certain users. As you have tried different tactics, it’s time to say goodbye to some of the emails.

That’s not a bad thing at all!

If after multiple attempts, you still have unengaged users who don’t even open a single email, there is no need to keep them.

Create your re-engagement strategy

Dealing with inactive subscribers is not a piece of pie.

Often, you have to learn about the reason for inactivity to build the right marketing strategy for activation.

That can be tough as well, especially if you have a small email list. Hopefully, by applying our tips in practice you can improve your core metrics and achieve your sales goals.

Thinking of trying out a few just now? Don’t rush! Start by defining your goals first – what you want to achieve by introducing your experiments and only then implement these tactics.