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Re-engaging inactive subscribers: Takeaways from Dell EMC

Inactive subscribers (often called “sleepy subscribers”) are a common conundrum for email marketers. Should they stay on the email list? Are they still valuable? How do you know who to remove?

Dell EMC faced this problem when they found out that 70% of their B2B contacts were inactive, so they launched an omnichannel campaign to re-engage their subscriber base. The “Unfrozen” program, named after the popular Disney movie, was a two-fold strategy. Dell EMC sought to either re-engage the dormant audience with alternative tactics, cadence and messaging or simply “let them go.”

Their approach to re-activating those subscribers highlighted a few key takeaways that email marketers can apply to almost any campaign.

Data should drive decisions

As Steve Hayman, Senior Business and Data Analyst at Dell, said at the Email Evolution Conference, “Data drives decisions.” A data-driven marketing approach helps you understand the issues that your subscribers face and determine what your program’s focus should be.

But where should you start?

With the vast amount of data available to brands, it can be challenging to determine which data points you should prioritize. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Email engagement data, like opens and clicks, can give you a baseline understanding of how people are interacting with your emails.
  • Conversion data tells you where people are making the decision to purchase. Email can trigger the “billboard effect” by driving that decision on a different channel, so it’s good to understand what’s making your customers make the final commitment to buy.
  • Segment behavior, or understanding how different groups (like new to file, gift giver, high-value or low-value or seasonal shopper) are engaging over time can be telling. For example, if you see a lapse in high-value customers, you may have a problem with your messaging. But if you see a lapse in their behavior year-round but a peak around holidays that may signify they are seasonal shopper and they plan their purchases ahead for specific times of the year.
  • Site activity outside of email can show you a more holistic picture. Take a look at your site visitors and loyalty members to understand how and what content they engage with and if there’s a better contact strategy for you to reach them.
  • Purchasing behavior may change over time. Analyze how subscribers email engagement correlates with their purchasing patterns.

Don’t have a lot of data right now?

Take the crawl, walk, run approach. Audit where your organization is today and use that as a starting point to develop a data-centric marketing plan. For example, you could start by taking a deeper look into your email engagement behavior. As you become more sophisticated, you can learn how to supplement that data with other customer data, like browsing behavior, in-store purchases, or even mobile app activity.

Put the consumer in the center of the conversation

People often disengage when companies focus on brand goals rather than the customers’ goals. To create better email campaigns, you need to think about your customers’ interests, motivators and overall customer journey.

To get subscribers interested in their emails, Dell EMC focused on solution driven content-oriented material rather than traditional marketing material. They provided interesting information and helpful tips, like customer stories and visual examples to show Dell EMC’s products in action. Instead of pushing their company agenda, they gave customers information that solved their technology problems.

Anticipating what your customer will engage with starts with knowing what they like. “How the consumer engages and doesn’t engage is really their way of voting,” explains Shannon Aronson, Senior Vice President, Strategic Consulting at Epsilon. “You need to change the way you communicate with consumers based on what they like. Try to put the customer, not your brand, at the center.”

By creating a dialog with your customers, you’ll get a better idea of what messaging will resonate with them.

Email drives high ROI, but it’s not the only channel to use

“Email is considered a mature channel, but there is still so much innovation in email,” says Shannon. Re-activating email subscribers was Dell EMC’s goal, so email was the primary channel they used.

However, combining email with other touchpoints can be a great way to drive cross-channel results. Dell EMC’s direct mail pieces featured a fun scratch-off component and sweepstakes that actually helped increase engagement within their emails.

Omnichannel may sound daunting, but it all starts with mapping out the customer journey. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does the customer journey look like today?
  • Where is the consumer spending their time, and money? (online vs app vs brick and mortar)
  • Do they already engage with you on social?

Learning from sleepy subscribers

Inactive subscribers don’t have to be a drain on your email marketing programs. In fact, you can learn a lot from them when you have informative strategies in place. Organizations that take a data-driven, customer-centric approach to their email marketing, like Dell EMC, see better engagement and higher revenue by reaching the right subscribers.