email marketing win-back programs

Study shows marketers give up on email subscribers too soon

email marketing win-back programs

Are you losing email subscribers?

Email analysis firm, Return Path, recently published a study of win-back programs. You may have heard about email win-back programs; or programs that happen when companies try to re-engage customers to do business again. These programs are becoming a popular part of the email marketer’s toolkit, but are they effective?

Return Path found that approximately 20 percent of all emails sent to customers are never even opened. However, the study also suggests that many marketers are giving up on their email subscribers too soon.

They analyzed 300 million email messages, sent by well-known brands, to over 100 million customers; the study found the brands leveraging a win-back campaign, stopped sending emails to four percent of its subscribers, even though 85 percent were not truly inactive. “Inactive subscribers” are defined differently depending on the marketer’s business model. However, it does not differentiate between the email address being inactive entirely, or the address simply not interacting with the particular marketer’s brand.

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What makes for an effective email?

The most effective emails, according to the study, had the words “miss you” in the subject line, which achieved a 13 percent read rate, as well as, “$ off” messages, which were nearly twice as successful as those with “% off” discounts. By immediately removing customers from your database, simply because they are not responding to it quickly, could be a mistake.

You may be removing people who are still engaged with your brand, but missed an email; and they may re-engage in the future. The Return Path study states, “Approximately 12 percent of all win-back messages were read, typically within a few days of delivery. However, as many as 45 percent of recipients later engaged with the sender’s email program, taking an average of 57 days – nearly two months – to read additional messages.” Consider leaving those contacts in your database for the next campaign, because they may still be engaging.

While there are downfalls to win-back emails, they can be an effective way to re-engage subscribers as long as marketers are using the right data (read rates and inbox activity), keywords, and optimizing the number and frequency of messages. Sending multiple win-back messages with enticing offers may be the best way to re-engage them. However, no one thing is going to work across the board; you may still need to experiment with different techniques to see what works best with your brand and your customers.

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Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.


  1. Very good approach to this post, Jennifer, as re-engaging with subscribers is a quick win for most email marketers. Sadly enough, if focused on re-engaging at all, most marketers overlook signals that engagement with the brand is decreasing and jump to action only when it’s too late already. I advise my clients to check on regular profile updates & open frequency of individual subscribers and to segment content based on the type of relationship. Clicks are the best tell-tale signal of an engaged subscriber, and clicks can be stimulated by adjusting the call to action to current engagement levels. I have shared 10 tips to increase engagement in this blog post:

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