22 minute read time
Sometimes, the hardest thing to remember is that marketing isn’t about you. Yes, you have goals for your team and your business—but you’ll never reach those goals unless you communicate what’s in it for your audience.
The key to successful marketing is to keep your audience at the core of all your efforts. Provide them with great experiences that surprise and delight them over and over again. Doing so builds a reputation for putting your audience first and sending only the best content.
And when your audience knows you only send the most high-level and relevant content, they look forward to hearing from you, keeping up with your company and staying engaged. Whether you’re a major corporation or a small business, providing a fantastic, personalized experience to every one of your brand’s followers is key to growth, customer retention, and creating lifelong brand advocates.
But even so, some of your subscribers will still become less engaged over time. Maybe they’re no longer in the market or maybe they’ve gotten busy. Or maybe their interests have shifted and what once resonated with them doesn’t anymore.
At this point, you’ll need to re-engage these contacts and either bring them back into the fold or let them go. Doing so means you send to the subscribers who have the greatest chance of converting, keeping your list healthy.
Finding a way to keep people engaged when every other company is trying to do the same can be intimidating. However, it doesn’t have to be.
In order to provide the data you need to stay ahead of the competition, we surveyed over 400 people about how they engage and re-engage with brands through email. In this guide, we’ve broken down everything we learned and what these numbers mean for you.
Plus, we provide tactics for you to add to your email marketing toolbox and examples to inspire you if you feel stuck.
Marketers looking to go above and beyond expectations in their email and digital marketing strategy to create campaigns that engage and re-engage subscribers in the best way possible. This guide is for anyone who wants to send re-engagement campaigns that highlight the best of their brand while keeping subscribers from feeling overwhelmed.
Through our survey and the tactics we explain in this guide, you’ll discover how to create content that engages your audience in a way that builds authority and trust in your brand. Use this information to shape your next campaign.
We surveyed over 400 people about how they prefer to engage and re-engage with their favorite brands through email. We asked what they look for in a brand’s email marketing and how they’ve responded to re-engagement campaigns over time.
In this survey, we asked some questions that allowed multiple responses (thus adding up to more than 100%) while other questions asked respondents to rank their choices.
Ensure your email marketing provides a great experience from the first moment someone subscribes to your email list, and you’ll need less re-engagement in the future.
Engagement changes from audience to audience, so be sure you always check your metrics to measure how these tactics affect your results. Email benchmarks for your industry provide good information, but the only true gold standard for engagement is measuring how your emails perform over time.
People who open most of their emails (at least half) only make up 31% of respondents. Meanwhile, those who open less than half of their emails make up almost 40%, and 17.6% of people rarely choose to open an email.
Most of the people we surveyed open less than half of their emails. This doesn’t have to scare you. It just proves the importance of cutting through the noise, reminding email marketers the importance of keeping up with email benchmarks for their industry. That way you know if your emails see a healthy open rate or not and can adjust accordingly.
We asked respondents to rank the emails they’re most likely to open, with the first choice being most likely to open and the last choice being the least likely to open. When the votes were tallied, this is how different types of email scored:
Cultivating affection for your brand is a strong theme in the top ranked email types. This common thread shows that your contacts are most likely to open your emails when they’re familiar with your brand and even love what your company is all about.
A strong welcome series allows you to do just that. Introduce yourself and your mission, and take the time to get to know your subscribers in order to foster a strong relationship that feels personal.
It’s interesting to note that the second half of this list consists of types of content that performs well on blogs and websites. This ranking shows that rolling this content into a singular newsletter that subscribers can anticipate may lead to more engagement—rather than sending separate emails dedicated to each individual type of content. Especially when you remember that most people open less than half of the total emails in their inboxes.
It’s important to note that even though people said they’re likely to open emails from unfamiliar brands, you shouldn’t be emailing anyone who hasn’t explicitly given you permission. It’s illegal, unethical, and a good way to wind up on blacklists.
We also asked our respondents for the reasons they choose to ignore an email. After the individual votes were tallied, this is the list from most common reasons to the least common:
In an overly crowded inbox, people will prioritize emails from people they know, so it’s important that your from line clearly communicates who you are and where you’re from. You don’t want subscribers to mistake your email for a phishing attempt, or ignore it altogether because they don’t recognize it.
One great way to maintain a personalized approach to email marketing while keeping your role clear: Consider changing your from information to a person’s name and your company.
For instance, our friends at Buffer send emails from Brian. Every subscriber clearly sees “Brian from Buffer” in the from column and knows exactly what to expect from the email.
This transparency builds trust with your audience while maintaining that line between personal and professional.
This data also proves the importance of sending relevant content. Again, with all the emails in people’s inboxes, you won’t hold onto your subscribers if you send information they don’t care about.
Dig deep into your data to create specific segments that allow personalized, targeted email content.
When we asked respondents to rank the reasons they’re most likely to unsubscribe from an email list, this is what they told us:
Email marketers know that it’s unethical and often illegal to send emails to anyone who hasn’t signed up to receive emails from them. But that doesn’t mean that people always remember subscribing to your list.
That’s why it’s important to send a welcome email immediately upon a new subscriber opting in. Make an impression so they don’t forget being introduced to your list.
Similarly, try to maintain a consistent email send cadence. This protects your deliverability—meaning you’re more likely to consistently land in the inbox. And it also means that your subscribers don’t go long periods of time without hearing from you, increasing the chances that they’ll forget all about you and your list.
When you haven’t been sending consistently and then suddenly flood subscribers’ inboxes, it’s likely they’ve forgotten about you and assume you’re sending emails without their permission.
This is how our respondents ranked their favorite types of content:
This list shows us that subscribers like to receive emails that directly benefit them the most, such as discount codes, exclusive sales, and new product announcements.
Consider creating a loyalty or VIP program for your most engaged subscribers. You can send emails with exclusive discounts, sales, new product announcements, event invites, and other materials that will keep your brand top of mind and your emails at the front of their to-read list.
The next type of content subscribers like to see is email marketing that emphasizes the personal. Behind-the-scenes content allows readers to see the heart behind your brand’s marketing efforts, creating a stronger connection between you and your biggest fans. Similarly, interesting videos and personal newsletters also speak directly to your readers and their individual interests, as does beautiful photography.
The least desired type of content revolves around your company. If you think subscribers join your list because they want to hear about you, this data proves the opposite. Subscribers join your list because of what’s in it for them.
When we asked respondents if they would make another purchase from a brand within the same year, 39.9% said they were somewhat likely to make another purchase, whereas the next largest portion of respondents said they were neutral, 21.4%. And another 17.3% of respondents said they were very likely to make a purchase.
Meanwhile, 13.4% of respondents said they were somewhat unlikely to make another buy. The smallest portion of respondents, only 8%, said they were very unlikely to make another purchase within the next year.
Nearly three quarters of respondents—74.7%—were open to or planning on making a follow-up purchase. This confirms what most marketers already know: It’s easier to retain customers and get them to convert after they’ve already made one purchase.
That’s because a great experience with your brand proves you’re trustworthy. Customers already know how you operate and are familiar with the quality of your products or services, so they have fewer hesitations when considering that next buy.
In order to take advantage of this data, ensure your transactional emails are top-notch. Go above and beyond just letting customers know when their order ships. You can provide more information, direct subscribers to FAQs, or begin the onboarding process depending on your offer.
Remember, customers often make a first-time purchased based on initial impressions, but your follow-through will keep them coming back again.
It can be intimidating to think about adjusting your entire email marketing strategy, so when you’re ready to overhaul your engagement tactics, we’ve broken it down into easy steps you can follow, starting with the beginning of your email program.
The welcome journey might be the most important part of your email marketing strategy. It sets the tone for your entire relationship with your new subscribers. And as most of us know: First impressions matter.
If you want to see your best engagement metrics—not to mention better engagement in the future—optimize your welcome journey.
Instead of simply sending one email to say hello, design an entire welcome journey. Introducd your brand, remind subscribers when and where they signed up, and explain what they can expect now that they’re on your email list.
You should also take this opportunity to tell your brand’s story. Who is your founder? What inspired the company’s birth? What are your stances on social issues?
Why should a consumer do business with you and not your competitors? This is your opportunity to build a personal connection and allow your subscribers and customers to see the human heart within your brand.
If your initial response to these initiatives is doubt, believe us: These days, consumers are more socially conscious than ever before. They want to do business with the companies who share their beliefs and are doing good in their community.
You might lose customers who disagree with your views, but the ones you gain will be more loyal and ultimately have a greater value to your brand down the line. Brands that share their values and their story well are the ones that cultivate lifelong brand advocates.
A recurring theme in this data is how much subscribers love a discount code, exclusive sale, or unique offer. In fact, that’s a contributing reason why a lot of people join email lists in the first place.
And people are far more likely to overcome their hesitations and pull the trigger for that first purchase if they’re getting a deal. Consider offering special sales or a sneak peek of a product you know will appeal to your subscribers. After all, you want to keep them on your list and opening your emails. What better way than to build a reputation for sneaking in sales and discounts to your subscribers?
You’ll earn the reputation for sending high-quality content and treating all your subscribers like VIPs, encouraging lifetime loyalty.
Transactional emails have some of the highest open rates among email marketing messages. And yet, they rarely contain any additional information beyond automatic notifications.
Your transactional emails provide an opportunity for you to wow your subscribers and outstrip your competition without needing much additional time or money.
When you let your customers know their package is on the way or their appointment is scheduled, add content that answers frequently asked questions or builds anticipation by including customer reviews of the same product or service. Maybe there’s a chance for you to begin upselling here (though be wary not to come off as greedy).
Even if you don’t have reviews or pain points you could address, consider adding fun content like a playlist curated by your brand for something to do while customers wait for the arrival of their purchase or the day of the event.
For example, a playlist helps pass the time, but it also reiterates your branding and can echo the values and attitude of your brand (we explore this concept more in our voice tech guide). Playlists associate your brand with the emotions evoked by the music and remind your customers of the human side of your business.
No matter how engaging your emails are, some subscribers will still disconnect. And that’s okay! It just means it’s time for you to give subscribers one more chance to connect and then let them go.
Just like you expect friendships to go both ways, your relationship with your subscribers shouldn’t be one-sided. If you constantly barrage a subscriber with emails and they never respond or engage, it’s time to say goodbye. You’re no longer in a relationship with them, wasting space on your list and dragging down your metrics.
When you’re ready to re-engage, consider this data we gained from our respondents about how they engage and interact with re-engagement campaigns.
The top two responses were either neutral feelings (36.1%) or a small amount of interest in what companies had to say (32.9%).
Meanwhile, 13.4% of respondents said they’d be somewhat hesitant and 10.5% said they’d be very interested. Only 7.0% said they’d be very hesitant about interacting with a brand they hadn’t heard from in a while.
This data should encourage you to be consistent with your email marketing. Alternating between seasons of minimal sending and sending with a high frequency can backfire if you can’t sustain that kind of cadence.
Sometimes things happen that might make it impossible or at least very difficult for you to maintain your email marketing frequency, and your messages drop off. When you reach back out to the contacts on your list, be transparent to overcome their hesitation.
Explain where and when subscribers signed up for your list so they know you aren’t spamming their inboxes and let them know, as best you can, what happened to cause your drop off in sending frequency. Your transparency and honesty might not win back everyone who receives your re-engagement campaign, but you will certainly impress them all and win back more than you would have by pretending nothing happened.
Out of our respondents, 72.6% said yes and only 27.4% said they had never received a re-engagement campaign.
If only 72.6% of people receive a re-engagement campaign, that’s over a quarter who disconnected from a brand and didn’t re-engage. While not all 27.4% would re-engage with a company, many of them would have if given the chance.
If you aren’t running re-engagement campaigns that offer incentives and pull out all the stops to bring subscribers back into the fold, you’re leaving revenue on the table.
These are the top 5 responses we heard from respondents:
While some subscribers received a lot of re-engagement campaigns—more than ten—there is an almost equal amount of subscribers who received only one. And the majority of respondents only received between zero and three re-engagement emails.
Clearly, re-engagement campaigns shouldn’t be run too frequently, but there’s room for an increased number of emails focused on re-engagement in people’s inboxes.
Look at the success rate of your re-engagement campaigns and see if your list would benefit from sending them more frequently. Perhaps you send a campaign to re-engage subscribers before you send out the pull-out-all-the-stops campaign. This light re-engagement campaign could send another discount code, or maybe just feature user reviews. The content you include will depend on your industry and your audience.
Of our respondents who received re-engagement emails, we asked them how often they made purchases based on those offers ranging from never, rarely, sometimes, often, and always.
The majority of respondents chose sometimes and rarely: 43.8% chose sometimes while 36.4% said only rarely.
Out of the remaining portion of respondents, 12.1% chose never, 4.8% said often, and finally 2.9% said they always made a purchase after receiving a re-engagement offer.
Re-engagement offers can clearly bring subscribers back to your website. However, our data shows that it might be a hard sell to ask these unengaged subscribers to immediately jump back into buying.
While it’s wise to provide the option and incentive for this segment to buy, your re-engagement campaign might be more effective when the goal is to increase engagement, not encourage a conversion.
These rankings go from the most common response to the least common.
Again we see that re-engagement doesn’t often lead directly to purchases. Instead, design your re-engagement campaigns with the goal to encourage engagement. You want to make sure subscribers open your emails and engage so your content and nurture series can do their jobs.
The goal of the re-engagement campaign should be to remind subscribers why they signed up for your list in the first place, whether that’s for the content, discounts, or behind-the-scenes access to your company.
We asked survey respondents which industries had sent them re-engagement emails that led them to make a purchase, allowing respondents to choose all industries that applied. Out of these industries, 56.5% of respondents said big-box retail stores (Target, Walmart, etc) and 50.5% said independent retail stores.
Likewise, 45.7% said they’d made a purchase within the restaurant industry and 42.8% chose entertainment.
Only 35.1% said travel and 21.7% said the fitness industry.
This data shows the importance of tailoring your email marketing program to your industry, instead of trying to follow along with every generic recommendation. Big-box retail stores have the most to gain and the least to lose by offering unengaged subscribers a discount. Different industries might not be able to make the same allowance.
Instead, study your metrics and see what type of content and offers brings in the most engagement. Is it an offer for a free trial of your product? Or customer reviews?
Look at past activity to predict future behavior and adjust your re-engagement campaigns so they include more content that works.
Here are four steps that will guide you through designing your next re-engagement campaign. Make sure you tackle each of these initiatives and you’ll be on your way to record re-engagement.
When you think about the overall goal of your re-engagement campaign, remember that the data shows your subscribers are unlikely to jump straight into a conversion. So if you design a re-engagement campaign where the subject lines, copy, and CTAs direct subscribers to make a purchase, you won’t see much response.
Instead, go back to the beginning and consider why subscribers joined your list in the first place. What inspired them the first time will most likely still resonate with them.
For instance, if your company is known for phenomenal customer support, create content in your re-engagement emails designed to remind subscribers how much you love your customers by sharing user-generated content or glowing reviews.
Similarly, if people join your list because you promise a discount or a free download, offer something similar in your re-engagement campaign or tease an upcoming offer to keep people looking ahead to the next email.
People love to feel like they’re getting a deal. When you’re ready to send a final re-engagement campaign, consider what sort of promotion you think will encourage subscribers to make a purchase. When they continue to ignore your messages, you’ll know you gave it your best shot and it’s time to take them off your list knowing you haven’t left any revenue on the table.
Like we’ve discovered, people might not be ready to buy during a re-engagement campaign. Consider different types of promotions that encourage them to reconnect with you without an immediate ask to buy.
The worst thing you can do when sending a re-engagement campaign is assume your subscriber knows what you mean. You want to be explicitly clear that you haven’t heard from them in a while and you’re trying to provide the best experience possible for their benefit.
Don’t shy away from being exact in your language. Tell subscribers you haven’t heard from them in a set amount of time and give them a chance to respond. Asking if they have questions shows you put subscribers’ interests and concerns first.
Similarly, make it clear what happens next and what the consequences will be. For instance, tell them when you’re ready to remove them from your list so subscribers know exactly what you’re doing and why.
Maybe your subscribers read your re-engagement campaign and realize they still want to hear from you, just not as much. This is the perfect time for you to plug your preference center. Provide a link to the preference center that allows subscribers to update how often they want to hear from you and what topics interest them.
The preference center also allows you to be transparent with the data you’ve gathered on your subscribers and makes it easy for them to see how you’re using that data. Plus, it’s a great way to show your subscribers which lists they’re on.
We all know how annoying it is to unsubscribe from a list just to continue receiving emails from that same company. Usually, this occurs because you unsubscribed from one list when you were actually signed up to several.
When this happens, subscribers often get annoyed and may mark your emails as spam. Instead, be transparent in your preference center and let subscribers see exactly which emails they’re receiving and why.
Allowing them to make changes easily means you’re less likely to get marked as spam.
Let’s assume you already have plenty of segments that make sending relevant content simple and save you time. What are some tactics within the actual email that can help you increase engagement?
The following are three of our favorite methods to increase engagement with your emails. We’ll tell you why these ideas work and provide examples to inspire you.
Everyone knows people love to talk about themselves—and this axiom translates to marketing, too. People love seeing their Instagram shots reposted and shared by their favorite brands. Same goes for pretty much any user-generated content on any social media platform.
The great news is you can use this user-generated content to your advantage. The benefits include:
You can include user-generated content in your emails as well as on your social media profiles. In fact, we encourage it. By integrating your digital marketing efforts, you expand your reach and grow all your channels.
But user-generated content doesn’t have to be confined to social media platforms. You can also include reviews in your emails and integrate the hashtag onto your website, allowing potential buyers to see how real life customers have already used your products or services.
You should assume your subscribers receive a lot of emails every day—possibly even some from your competitors. So your emails need to stand out if you want readers to engage with them again and again. Interactive content will keep your emails from getting boring or dull.
While most people have received some sort of request for feedback they could interact with in an email, there are plenty of ways to incorporate interactive content your subscribers haven’t seen a few times already.
You can gamify your emails by adding an in-email quiz to test their knowledge in your industry. Or maybe your subscribers can see what discount is behind doors number one, two, or three.
Source: Really Good Emails
If your subscribers see the same emails from you over and over again, eventually they’ll get bored. Occasionally adding in some interactive content keeps your subscribers engaged and looking forward to seeing what you’re going to send them next.
Another great way to keep your subscribers engaged is to occasionally send emails with the sole purpose of delighting your subscribers.
The content you send in an email like this will depend on your branding and your industry. If your branding uses a serious tone to convey your messaging, an email you send with the express purpose of surprising and delighting might just include a recent study published in your industry.
An email like this provides information you wouldn’t normally send, but you believe it will add value to your subscribers’ lives and make them smile. An email like this should only be sent every once in awhile, and you should be clear that you aren’t sending spam by explaining in your copy why this email is a little different than your others.
Similarly, this email should only vary slightly from your regularly scheduled sends to maintain the integrity of your email marketing program.
For example, this email from Glossier goes against our normal advice, yet it still works for their brand. The subject line “Click for cute” piques the subscriber’s interest and the copy in the email is minimal. Calls to action should be clear and to the point, but this CTA just says, “Good dog,” and leads to their homepage.
Because Glossier is a brand people know and trust with a loyal fan base, they can get away with sending an email like this every once in a while. And it’s a fun, exciting way to break from the normal promotion or blog callout.
Another key to making an email like this work is to make sure you’ve included alt text that makes the email easy to understand for screen readers. You don’t want any of your subscribers to miss out on your most delightful emails, especially when you send pictures of precious pups.
The best thing about email is that you can continually learn from your past sends and adjust your next one, letting you consistently refine your process until you see your peak results.
Looking at this data, we weren’t surprised to see that subscribers placed an emphasis on value. Subscribers join email lists because of the value you consistently deliver. Similarly, people want to receive emails from companies they genuinely like.
That means if you adopt these key takeaways into your email strategy, you may quickly see an improvement in your engagement:
By watching your metrics over time, you’ll be able to incorporate more of the elements that perform best with your audience.
Remember, engagement is key to seeing your best results from email marketing. Without engagement, it doesn’t matter how big your list is or how well you’ve written your copy. People must read and interact with your emails if they’re ever going to be effective.
And with these tools, you’re ready to see your best engagement ever.
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