Adjusting Email Tactics to Improve Brand Reputation

By reducing email frequency and offering relevant content, retailers can reengage current and inactive subscribers, improve the customer experience, and better their sender reputation.

The holidays are upon us, bringing with them a flood of cheery tunes and special offers. Retailers inundate consumers' email inboxes with coupons and promotions, hoping to increase business. But with the constant stream of emails all year long, many subscribers delete even holiday messages without ever reading them.

As Responsys' notes in its "Email Engagement and Deliverability Study: Management, Reengagement and Re-permissioning of Inactive Subscribers by Major Retailers" report, many email subscribers don't bother to unsubscribe from email lists for various reasons, adding themselves to the ranks of inactive subscribers. And though these subscribers display little interest year-round, many retailers still send emails at same frequency that they mail active subscribers, putting the brands' sender reputations in jeopardy as the lower engagement levels among subscribers increase the chances of emails sent to inactive addresses being diverted into a spam trap.

To test retailer behavior, Responsys subscribed to the email programs of more than 100 major retailers using fictional personas. The test included opening and clicking on emails for a period of time, and then stopping and letting 40 months pass. The following summarizes what Responsys observed:

  • Thirty-one percent of retailers continued mailing with no frequency reduction, 23 percent continued mailing at a reduced frequency, 14 percent stopped mailing, and 32 percent stopped mailing after first reducing frequency.
  • Fifty-five percent of major retailers eventually reduced the frequency of mailings to inactives. The majority reduced their mailing frequency at some point before the 40-month mark, reducing output by 69 percent compared to how often they mailed active subscribers.
  • Forty-six percent of major retailers eventually stopped mailing inactive subscribers after an average of 28 months of inactivity, falling outside of the recommended 24-month ceiling. It's also recommended that retailers request subscribers to confirm their continued interest in receiving emails by a certain date or else be removed from future mailings.
  • Before initiating a reengagement strategy, retailers must first develop a clear definition between an inactive subscriber and an inactive customer. ISPs measure email engagement specifically, marking positive behaviors with opening the message, clicking through, enabling images, and scrolling through messages. Negative behaviors, such as reporting as spam and deleting messages, may damage the retailer's reputation and deliverability in the future.
  • Retailers should initiate their reengagement strategy well before a subscriber meets the definition of inactive. The longer subscribers are inactive, the more difficult it is to reengage them. The majority of reactivated subscribers were inactive for less than 18 months.
  • Changing up the content can be an effective component of reengagement, yet only 16 percent tried to reengage inactives in this fashion. Retailers may also choose to reduce frequency by only sending top-performing emails to inactives. Many even alter the subject lines of their reengagement emails to include phrases like "We miss you," "Come back," and "It's been too long."
  • Senders should launch re-permission campaigns when 80 percent or more of their emails any given ISP are being diverted to junk folders for an extended period of time (more than one to two weeks). According to the report, 16 percent of retailers send re-permission emails to inactives, allowing them to update their subscription preferences before ceasing to mail them.

Key takeaway: Inactives are a danger to deliverability because of their minimal engagement and higher propensity to hit the "report spam" button. Retailers should observe customers' lack of engagement as it develops, increasing offer quality and decreasing frequency as a defensive tactic to boost the level of engagement as seen by ISPs. If retailers don't maintain good list hygiene and preserve a solid sender reputation, they risk dependable deliverability to active subscribers, as well. By establishing rules for removing inactives and instituting re-permissioning campaigns for that "one last chance" to remain on their mailing list, retailers may begin to weed out inactives and ensure the future of their reputation.