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How to Reactivate Your Lapsed Email Subscribers

by Denise Keller  |  
September 18, 2012

We've all seen hoarder reality shows where camera crews navigate through homes owned by people who have not tossed out a newspaper since the Nixon administration. Email marketers have hoarding tendencies as well: If you check your subscriber lists, you'll probably find contacts lingering who should have been dealt with long ago.

Instead of sitting in limbo, uncertain whether to save or dump email addresses, you need to decide which contacts you should keep and which ones you should trash.

Use the following advice to either break up with do-nothing subscribers or revive contact with subscribers who still hold value.

Long-Unresponsive Subscribers? Flush 'em

The only reason to send an email newsletter to subscribers is that you have a reasonable expectation that they will respond in some way.

If a subscriber is that in name only and long ago ceased expending any effort in relation to your email missives, such as actually opening them (never mind clicking on your calls to action), then call in 1-800-EMAIL-FLUSH.

We email marketers are the nostalgic kind, and we tend to keep hope alive in the face of all rational evidence to the contrary. And so most brands will not say goodbye to subscribers until they have given one more shot for old times' sake via a reactivation campaign.

The Three Basic Reactivation Campaigns

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Denise Keller is chief operating officer of Benchmark Email, a global email marketing software company.

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  • by Mauricio Osorio Tue Sep 18, 2012 via iphone

    One of the biggest obstacles at times are"C" level executives who feel that we should continue keeping these people on. I've seen them lobbying to keep them for a variety of reasons such as, our keeping our list size and once in a blue moon order. They equate list size as a very important metric and any removal is like taking money off the table.then there's the once in a blue moon sale that translates to a heartbeat that reinforces the former.

  • by Rishi Tue Sep 18, 2012 via web

    Great article! I believe marketers "hold on" to newsletter subscribers because they don't want to delete them and report a drop in subscribers to their upper managers. Personally, I don't see much wrong in hoarding unresponsive subscribers. Sure, they may be unresponsive right now, but I would like to think that maybe sometime in the future when they need my service, they will remember my weekly emails and keep me in mind. For more marketing cheat sheets including "10 Tips for Mobile Usability", check out our tips and tricks at

  • by Jay Tue Sep 18, 2012 via web

    One way to manage this is, if you know personality types, you can understand that some types can take a long long time to decide to buy and needs to be gently courted. This group represents 46% of the population so before you start tossing out apparently disintersted prospects make sure they are disintested. Best way to find out is to ask them.

    However Denise's point that lapsed names impact adversely on statistics is spot on. Unless you can do a workaround i would dump the ancient names and just send them an enticing one-time-only, over-the-top offer every couple of months along the lines of "I hate to lose an old friend and what's more, I am will to prove it."
    Certainly worth testing, yes?

  • by Susan Tormollen Fri Sep 21, 2012 via web

    I think it all comes down to metrics, analytics, and dollars. If there is a cost involved with maintaining a large, unresponsive database, then certainly eliminate contacts who have not responded to your campaigns. But, if there is not a significant cost, then build nurture paths where you treat non-responsive contacts differently than the more responsive ones. I think the 3 suggestions in this article are good ideas.

    Perhaps non-responding contacts only receive newsletters and a quarterly offer, whereas more responsive contacts are offered content pertaining to their last engagement/actions.

    Also, never underestimate the power of a phone call. With all the tools available to match emails to phone numbers, give the non-responsive contacts a quick call. If you do get through and they truly aren't your target audience, then of course remove them.

    Finally, set up metrics so that your teams aren't penalized for non-responders remaining in your database. Have metrics based on nurture paths and strategic initiatives.

  • by Lynn Dalsing Mon Sep 24, 2012 via web

    I love the idea of thinking about inactive subscribers as data that you're hoarding. Nice explanation of the different types of re-engagement campaigns as well. We wrote about another hybrid approach for lists with third-party email opt-in on our blog as well:

    We linked up to this in our weekly email news roundup at

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