How to reduce spend & succeed by targeting inactive subscribers

Here's the truth, as much as half your database is inactive - many will have been inactive for a long time. They're unlikely to be causing any obvious problems for your business but they're also unlikely to be adding value. But don't panic, it's not too late to turn your inactive subscribers into active customers.

Why should you target inactive subscribers?

They aren't helping you reach your goals - It's unlikely the sole goal for your email marketing is to grow your subscriber list to as many subscribers as possible, regardless of whether they interact with you or not. If it is, we'd recommend revising your goals and focusing on opens, clicks, conversions, opt-out rates and proactive list growth. Your goals should be focused on activity, so your inactive subscribers won't be adding any value.

Campaign performance is affected by them - One of the most important things you can do as an email marketer is monitor the performance of your campaigns. We normally do this through reporting of open, click-through, opt-out and conversion rates. The issue is that your inactive subscribers will only serve to dilute your reporting. If 50% of your database is inactive you're immediately fighting a losing battle. The best open rate you'll ever achieve will be 50%, which taking the inactive subscribers into account would actually be 100%.

Tracking activity of high value customers becomes difficult - Similar to the last point discussed, if you leave your inactive subscribers in the same group as your active subscribers you may find it difficult to identify shifts in customer behaviour. Spotting this can help you react to changes before they cause issues for your business. Having a greater focus on your subscriber groupings will help you achieve your goals.

They may be affecting your deliverability - It's now widely accepted that email providers are monitoring the activity around emails delivered into the inbox. If your emails are not being opened, clicked and kept for later reference it's quite likely your deliverability will be affected. You must focus on delivering messages to those that wish to receive them and those that will interact with you. Remember, email isn't a passive medium and you should be looking to engage activity.

They're costing you money - Each of the points discussed has a direct impact on costs. It's simple, inactive subscribers cost you money and are unlikely to contribute to your bottom line.

What should you do with inactive subscribers?
Here are our top three tips for dealing with inactive subscribers:
  1. Define how you'll classify an inactive subscriber - One of the biggest barriers to success in this area is your ability to identify who is inactive and who isn't. The first thing to do is set a benchmark for activity. This could be an active, trackable open once in every six emails. For some businesses this might not be tough enough. We've seen some definitions of "active" based purely on clickthroughs. If the recipient hasn't clicked an email in a certain period they're moved to an inactive list segment. Your business needs to define what you will use as your classification. 
  2. Move inactive subscribers to a separate group - Once you've defined what "active" means to your business you can start analysing your database and segmenting based on activity. Take your inactive subscribers and move them to a separate group. You should develop a strategy to re-engage these subscribers with the aim of moving them out of the inactive group or removing them from your database. Don't just keep sending them the same message as you send your active subscribers. It's important you develop a specific strategy just for inactive subscribers and ensure you implement this strategy.
  3. Review your inactive subscribers to find patterns - It's advisable to review your inactive subscribers to try and spot patterns. Is there something they have in common? Were they all collected via the same mechanism? For example, they may have been collected at trade shows. This could suggest the trade shows you're attending are not returning on your investment. The most important thing is to analyse and learn from your inactive subscribers. Your aim should be to reduce your percentage of inactive subscribers in your total database. 
In conclusion
Activity management is one of the most time consuming tasks for any email marketer. The truth is there's nothing stopping you from carrying on as you are and leaving your active and inactive subscribers all in one big group. However, the truth is you'll never achieve your full potential without segmenting your list based on activity. This is not the only variable you should use for segmentation but it's one of the most important, and in our opinion, it's one the most efficient and effective ways to increase your chances of email marketing success.