Re-engaging 'at risk' customers by email

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on February 24, 2012

Re-engaging 'at risk' customers by email

Customer re-engagement seems to have a number of definitions, depending on who you ask, and the ideas about how to approach it are just as wide and varied, according to Kara Trivunovic, global director of strategy and market innovation for StrongMail, who reminds us all that, no matter what the specific approach, it is generally cheaper to nurture an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one.

The idea of customer re-engagement should appeal to any marketer. Historically, the prevailing attitude among email marketers was that, because sending emails out is so inexpensive, it's not worth going to the trouble of suppressing inactive email contacts. In fact, until very recently, this was an issue of relatively little importance, but that has changed. With more and more email service providers (for example, Google's Gmail service) using 'open', 'click' and 'reply' as metrics for determining the inbox placement of incoming messages, there is now an effective form punishment for sending email to non-responders.

Taking a holistic picture of your customers' experience and interaction with your brand is imperative; it is often offline actions that could be impacting on-line behaviour. For example, a bad customer service experience via telephone, failure to accept a coupon in- store, or maybe losing someone's luggage during air travel could impact or influence the recipients' desire to engage with your email communications in future. Scenarios such as these make it even more important to have a single, cohesive view of the customer, because responding to those situations in a realistic amount of time can go a long way toward correcting the customer's dismay, or at least minimising it.

Consequently, StrongMail's five suggested steps toward an effective re-engagement programme are:

  1. Develop your definition of 'disengaged' The key to successfully winning back customers is working out why they disengaged in the first place. But defining an unengaged subscriber can be tough. Just because a subscriber did not open and click on your email doesn't mean they did not purchase from you or engage via other channels. Often, it is necessary to look outside your standard email metrics to determine what disengagement means for your company. Common metrics to look at include: email open, email click, email conversion, web site log-in, online purchase, offline purchase and subscription renewal. But engagement is situational to an organisation, sometimes even at a product level, so be sure to spend ample time uncovering what it truly means to you before moving anything forward.  
  2. Identify the audience that meets the definition, and analyse it Depending on the size of the audience and how tight the definition of inactivity is, you may need to narrow in on certain elements. For example, you may find that a group of subscribers had no engagement activity in the past 12 months and no purchases. However that same group was both active and made purchases during the 12 months prior. This would indicate that the customers have a predication to be active with your brand, but not in the last 12 months for some reason. As a result, they may be a good group to talk to.  
  3. Find an approach that will resonate with the audience Just saying "We miss you" is not enough any more. Brands are starting to use this type of sentiment in emails more frequently than they once did, which can water-down the impact it has on a recipient when seen in the inbox. This is where the knowledge of your brand and your customer must be leveraged heavily. Is there a seasonality that needs to be considered? Is the competition fierce and loyalty low? What drives the desired behaviour? Understanding any of these or countless other contributing factors will help you achieve success with your re-engagement programme.  
  4. Craft and test a solid subject line It is true that if the customer has been inactive in email, driving re-engagement via email may not be the most successful way to go. But one crucial success factor is the strategy, approach and testing of your subject line. You need to give the recipient something to get excited about, a few carefully crafted words that will grab their attention in an over-crowded inbox and ultimately drive engagement. Testing here is very important. Small nuances in the subject line could drive a significant lift in programme performance such as including the phrase "valued customer" versus not doing so. The 'power of the pen' continues to exist, and creating outstanding subject lines is a great way to apply that power.  
  5. Establish metrics and KPIs for success measurement There is no way to tell how well your programme is performing if you do not have a baseline against which to measure performance. Define your hypothesis and the long- term goal of the programme first, and then make sure the metrics you need to prove your theory are attainable. For example, maybe you want to drive incremental purchase behaviour from 30% of a previously inactive audience. In order to prove you've achieved this, you need to have the data available. So keep it realistic and make sure that what you are trying to accomplish is a goal that your organisation as a whole can get behind and support.

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