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Why Inactive Subscribers Might Be Just Fine

April 11, 2012  

According to conventional wisdom, if email subscribers remain inactive for at least one year, it's best to remove them from your list.

But Dela Quist takes a contrarian view. "Inactivity is normal activity," he tells Ken Magill in an interview at the Magill Report. "Inactivity is the default position for consumers. Highly engaged people are outliers."

Quist says there's no real need to cull inactive subscribers from your list. He offers reasons like these:

  • In his experience, inactive subscribers comprise 35 to 65 percent of every legitimate email list.
  • If you make a habit of culling them, and don't replace them with a larger number of new subscribers, you will effectively obliterate your list within five years.

"Quist calls inactive names on permission-based lists 'unemotional subscribers,'" reports Magill. They don't find your messages annoying, argues Quist—they simply don't need your product or service at the moment. And they tend to open messages, eventually, at a rate of one to three percent.

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  • by Rebecca Johnson Wed Apr 11, 2012 via web

    While it may be true that 'inactivity is normal activity', for the average consumer, I do not agree at all with the concept of continuing to communicate with subscribers who are clearly not engaging with your brand over time.

    I find this position to be dangerous, leading to lazy marketing and cluttering up the inboxes of millions of email subscribers with irrelevant messages, that do not interest or engage subscribers.

    I believe that this approach not only hurts marketing communications as a whole; by cluttering the communication fields, I also believe it will ultimately end up costing your organization a lot of time and resources as well as its customer relationships in the long run.

    Come on marketers, where's our sense of responsibility to the consumer?

  • by Chris Lockhart Thu Apr 12, 2012 via web

    A good thought provoking article, thank you!

    I think the po!nt missing here is not about knowing what they are thinking, it is more a case of finding out how they like to communicate (that's listening, as well as talking).

    Considering the B2B side of things - Your subscribers, though they have been, are, or will be interested in your product/service at some point, they may simply not have enough time to read through all of their emails! It happens. A different approach might be needed with these contacts, picking up the phone to talk direct with them might be more effective. It could be refreshing to talk with the contact, you never know what you might both find out.

    B2C - Rebecca, you have a point here. Although, there have been occasions in which I have ignored emails that I have signed up for, only to open one a year or so later and bought something as a result. As a marketer you do need to consider your responsibility. If a contact is inactive for a long period of time, your weekly emails in their inbox may soon get annoying for them. Frequency is king here, what about moving the inactive contacts to a drip campaign that is based on a larger time scale with emails one or two months apart?

  • by Kevin Byrne Thu Apr 12, 2012 via web

    I have to agree with Rebecca in that we have a responsibility not to send irrelevant communications.

    Personally I think that if a subscriber has been inactive, or has not interacted with your brand in the slightest over a period of 12 - 18 months, that they should be removed from the primary mailing list and added to a drip list as mentioned by Chris. (mails every 2-3 months)

    If they still don't interact over an additional period of 12 months, then I would remove them from all mailing lists.

  • by Dela Quist Tue May 1, 2012 via web

    Unlike most email marketing commentators I assume that my audience work for legitimate companies, care about what they do and above all have some common sense. You clearly believe that you fall into this category so why do you think other Marketing Profs members and readers do not?

    I have spoken and writen extensively about inactives for several years and my argument is based on very deep and sophisticted analysis of email campaign data over long periods of time and having originally started out thinking the way you do; the data has compelled me to change my approach.

    To get a better understanding of my thinking I recommend that you and anyone else that is interested view the Email Marketing Master Course entitled: "Inactive Subscribers: Threat or Opportunity?" that I presented at the Marketing Profs University which was recorded and can be found here:

    The recording which is free to members lasts about an hour includes real life case studies and hard evidence.

    You may end up coming to the conclusion that it is the people who advocate indiscriminate purging of inactives without taking the time to understand what is really going on that are the lazy ones

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