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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

A reactivation campaign consists of emails designed to get "lost-cause" subscribers reading your newsletters again. The three basic types of reactivation campaigns are the cut-off, the survey, and the special offer.

1. The Cut-off

The cut-off email tells your inactive subscribers that because of their apparent lack of interest you are planning to delete them from your list.

You let them know that unless they click on a link to reconfirm their interest in remaining a subscriber, they will miss out on all your sterling content and superlative offers.

However, before you send your subscribers such an ultimatum, you might want to try the other two reactivation approaches.

2. The Survey

Polls and surveys can work wonders, because they allow lapsing subscribers to actively participate with your brand messaging while expressing their opinion.

Most people love to think that their opinion is worth something, and by catering to that desire to "make a mark" by helping to shape the future of your brand messaging, you might just recapture their interest...

And, if not, at least you'll garner some valuable insight about why they wandered away from you.

3. The Special Offer

Sending a discount coupon to the Cheshire Cat-like swiftly vanishing subscriber is not enough. To create an impact, provide an offer that is specifically designed to appeal to your subscribers' demographics, geography, and past behavior with your brand.

  • If your subscribers have shown a tendency to prize information, then the offer of a free e-book download, a report, whitepaper, guide, or other in-depth document might bring them back to the fold.
  • However, if your subscribers are more interactive, offer a free game, video, or app.
  • And if your company has a location near your subscribers, set up a special event and provide them with free tickets.

Consider all the incentives you could provide to your lapsing subscribers—from an informative webcast or podcast to a private invitation to a celebrity's local book signing—to get them excited about your brand again.

* * *

Inactive subscribers are not only a wasted send but also a leading cause of spam complaints. They also tank your email metrics related to opens and click-throughs.

Like all email marketers, you're always trying to boost your return on investment, so don't waste time and money on deadbeats. Reactivate your lapsed subscribers and whip your campaigns back into shape.

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