By Tim Watson, Operations Director, Emailvision

It is very common to find that for email marketers between 40% and 60% of their email database has not opened or clicked an email in over 6 months. This could be for a variety of reasons such as

- The customer is not currently in need of the product being offered

- The emails are being read and open tracking has not been triggered

- The customer is lapsing and reducing affinity to the brand

- Customers are tuning out to repetitive messages

- The subscribed email address is no longer being checked

- A secondary email address was subscribed.

Experience shows that whilst six months may sound like a long time to have no tracked open or click event, there will be a proportion of the apparently inactive customers who still have value. The worst thing to do would be to simply drop the data without any attempt to win-back.

Win-back campaigns are therefore called for to target the inactive segment. The message and approach to win-back must be different, it is not like talking to an engaged customer.

I looked at three win-back campaigns which were case studies of a recent DMA event. These case studies were from three different companies who independently created and ran subject line split tests as part of their win-back email optimisation. The tests were not just A/B tests with two different subject lines test but multiple treatment subject lines were included in the tests. For the three companies studied the three winning subject lines for the three companies were:

- Was it something we said?

- Are we still welcome in your inbox?

- Is this goodbye?

Given the three subject lines were created independently of each other it is remarkable just how similar they are.

The key elements that make these subject lines work are:

- They are different to the subject line of any normal marketing message

- They are very simple and honest

- They have a conversational style

- They aren't trying to sell anything

It is also noteworthy that all three subject lines are questions. In normal campaigns to an engaged audience I would not typically expect a question based subject line to be a winner.

For two of the companies incentives were also tested in the subject line. One tested use of a competition with a win offer and the other a discount. On both cases the use of incentives in the subject lines were found to decrease the response to the win-back. Using a free, win, save message made the emails look too much like just another marketing email. However, including an incentive as a secondary message within the email body was found in some cases to be beneficial in getting action.

The takeaway is that the rules are different for inactive customers. Incentive and benefit based subject lines may be just right for active customers. However the tone and voice must reflect the current state of relationship to the person you are communicating. So for disengaged customers a different type of subject line is needed. People are people regardless of exactly what they are buying. How they think and react is a human trait and not determined by the brand.

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