It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye: Mighty Citizen’s Experience Running an Email Re-Engagement Campaign

Thankfully, there’s been an email marketing paradigm shift in recent years. It used to be that, above all, size mattered. “How many emails are on your list, bro?” As with many other areas of work and life, we’ve collectively come to realize the value of quality over quantity. Money alone can buy you lists, but it can’t buy you fans.

Now we’re all in a better place. Open and click rates are hailed as sacred and campaign conversion tracking is commonplace. We strive to grow our email lists the same way we would a new romantic relationship—at a healthy, nurturing pace, without unleashing a stream of unanswered messages or totally ghosting on a new prospect.

In love and in email marketing, not everyone is right for each other. Perhaps you’ve done a solid job of acquiring email addresses over the years through events, webinars, gated content on your website, or even by purchasing lists. If you’re experiencing below-average open and click-through rates on your emails, we highly recommend doing some spring cleaning.

In March, we ran our first email re-engagement campaign. We spent a not-insignificant amount of time planning—using our marketing campaign template as a guide—and there were still some complications. We found that saying goodbye was not nearly as swift as it should have been. Despite a few bumps in the road, we ended up removing a whopping 33% of our email list. And we’re better for it.

In April and May, our newsletters surpassed the stretch goals we’d been striving for. Our open and click rates increased by 8.6% and 3%, respectively. You too can experience these results if you’re willing to do the hard work of saying goodbye.

Step 1: Determine Who to Include in Your Re-Engagement Campaign

We decided to run our campaign targeting contacts who were added to our list before January 2019 and hadn’t opened one of our emails in six months or longer. We send out monthly newsletters (and the occasional email in between) so we decided that six months without a single open was officially ghosting in our book. 👻

Email marketing platforms have different capabilities around setting up an audience for a drip campaign. Unfortunately, our current platform required us to manually select each of the emails we’d sent out in the six months prior to January, filtering for those who “did not open” each of those emails within each of our lists. We then had to create new “segments” out of these lists to include only those who hadn’t opened any of the selected emails. Whew! Still with us? Needless to say, we are very thankful for our intern, Hannah.

Once you decide on your own parameters, if you pull the list and it’s more than one-third of your contacts you may want to pause your plans and evaluate—how have you collected these emails? Mostly unbeknownst to these people? Do you know who they are? What content could you provide that would actually be valuable to them?

Because if you’re not willing to cut every single contact who receives your re-engagement campaign, you shouldn’t be sending it to them. Make sure your list matches your comfort level, and discuss with your colleagues—what’s the value of keeping contacts who don’t open your emails?

Step 2: Create a Multi-Step Campaign with a Single CTA

A two-part re-engagement campaign is considered standard. Since these are the people who don’t open your emails, you want to give them at least two chances to engage. If more than half of your email list is receiving the campaign, you may want to add in a third email to provide an extra opportunity.

Each of these emails should include just one clickable link: a big, bold button (or two) to stay on your email list. If you’re tempted to link to your best content or anything else, resist the urge.

The copy in these emails needs to be short and sweet, and clever enough to convert your dropouts. This is the time to amp up your brand personality, without being disingenuous. No need to try to be something you’re not.

Since we’re a GIF-loving bunch and use them regularly in our emails, on our website, and on social, we incorporated fitting GIFs into each email in our campaign.

Step 3: Test Different Content & Subject Lines

When we sent out our re-engagement campaign Marie Kondo’s Netflix show was all the rage, so we tested out two different sets of emails: one with a general spring cleaning theme and one with a Tidying Up theme.

We tested different subject lines for each version of each email. For the Tidying Up campaign, we used popular show references like “Do our emails spark joy?” and for the Spring Cleaning campaign, we tried generic subject lines like “We miss you” that have proven effective. People love to feel needed.

All of this testing required manual labor. We had to export each of our new segment lists from Campaign Monitor, merge them into one spreadsheet, manually divide the master list in half (which we did alphabetically by name,) and create two new lists: one for the Tidying Up campaign and one for the Spring Cleaning campaign.

Step 4: Deploy With Caution

You’ll want to set up a drip campaign automation that only sends the second email in your campaign to those contacts who didn’t click the link to stay on your list in the first email. We spaced our two emails five days apart, one on a weekday and one on the weekend.

Before sending out the first email in your campaign, check and double check that your list is accurate by searching for a bunch of email addresses that shouldn’t be included on it. Like your own. And your boss’s. Then, choose ten more random names and check them against your email data. If anyone who regularly opens your emails is showing up in the list then Houston,  you’ve got a problem.

We accidentally sent our first reactivation email to some of our engaged contacts because of a tiny mistake in one of our list’s segmentation parameters. Did it bruise our egos? Yes, yes it did. And it just goes to show that if any piece of this process requires manual work, you’ve got to be extremely careful.

Our subject line A/B testing yielded some odd results. While more people opened the Marie Kondo email, the spring cleaning email had a 5% higher click rate. They must have really loved that Sarah Michelle Gellar GIF.

Our second round of emails—sent five days later to those who didn’t opt back in the first time—just enhanced the oddity. This time, the spring cleaning email version had a slightly higher open rate and a lower click rate; the complete opposite of the first email. If people made any sense, marketing would be too easy…

Step 5: Stay True to Your Plan and Say Bye, Bye, Bye

Give it a week after you send out the final email in your campaign, then export the list of people who did not click the link to stay on your list within that last email. This is it, your see-you-never list.

This will likely be a significant list of people. We removed one-third of our email list after our re-engagement campaign. Light some candles, pour a glass of wine, and mass delete. It’s honestly a bit cathartic.

Now, Watch the Engagement Rise

You will undoubtedly see a jump in your open and click rates when you send out your next email. It’s a great feeling and you should celebrate, but the work’s not over. What can you do now to get your remaining contacts more engaged?  You may want to survey your freshened-up list asking them what kinds of content they’d like to see more of. And if you’re not already running split tests, you should be A/B testing every email you send to see which subject lines, copy, and calls to action work best for your readers.

In Summary…

To successfully deploy an email reactivation campaign, you’ll need to:

  • Determine parameters for who will receive the campaign and pull these contacts from your larger list
  • Build a drip campaign with at least two emails and a single call to action (an opt-in to stay on your list)
  • Create clever, compelling content that shows off your brand personality
  • Deploy the campaign with at least a few days in between emails
  • Be prepared to remove a significant number of emails from your list

If campaigns aren’t your forte, I recommend downloading our free marketing campaign template to help you plan, deploy, and track results. Happy list cleaning, and feel free to tweet at @youaremighty with questions! It wasn’t an easy process, but it was well worth it.

Want help? Mighty Citizen is giving away $25,000 in free communications services to one lucky organization. Learn more about the Mighty Big Grant here.