Reactivation Campaigns to Re-engage Inactive Subscribers

What should you do if you notice that a large portion of your subscriber list has stopped interacting with your email campaigns by no longer opening or clicking links in your mails? Should you ignore the change in their behaviour and keep sending to them, hoping that they do eventually open your mail? Probably not. But should you then simply delete these email accounts and move on? No, you don’t have to - yet.

Why not consider sending these subscribers a series of special campaigns to get them reading and responding again. This is commonly known as a reactivation campaign. With reactivation campaigns you’re essentially trying to get subscribers to reconfirm their subscription by peaking their interests and getting them interacting with your mail again - typically those subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked on a message in six months or more.

However, before you consider blasting your best campaign yet off to a bunch of inactive subscribers, you should be aware that it’s possible your campaign delivery and sender reputation might get affected as sending to un-engaged and inactive subscribers can come with a higher than normal bounce rate and possibly more spam complaints than is generally accepted – especially if it’s been some time since your last send to those subscribers. For that reason, sending your reactivation campaign off of a separate IP is recommended.

Ideally you’d want to let them know that if they don’t click to reconfirm their interest, you will stop sending those messages and remove them from the mailing list. Although it may seem counter intuitive to ask subscribers whether they want to leave your list but on the other hand, continuing to send to inactive subscribers ultimately affects your IP reputation and campaign deliverability anyway.

ISPs determine whether to route messages to the recipient’s inbox or junk folder, or not to deliver it at all, based on a combination of factors such as the recipient’s engagement with the sender, customer feedback like spam complaints and the recipient’s general level of email activity. Additionally, sending messages to inactive recipients could result in mailing bad addresses such as spam traps that will also affect sender reputation negatively.

There is no one size fits all solution for inactivity, but it can’t help to recognise what may be the cause of it. Often subscribers become inactive because:

  • The content is weak or stale which is causing the subscriber to become disinterested.
  • The subscriber doesn't need the information or product presented to them at the moment, but wants to stay connected for future use.
  • The email goes into the junk folder and they don’t see it – in which case you should probably test and see what could be the cause of it.
  • They've lost interest, but don’t bother to unsubscribe.
  • The subscriber stopped using, or rarely checks the listed email account.
  • They have email fatigue because each message sent is sent out at the same time each time, the wrong time or simply too often.
  • Their interests have changed and these messages are not relevant to them anymore.

Reactivation campaigns in practice Depending on the sender’s industry, business models and purchase cycles, you may need to differentiate between an inactive subscriber and a customer who may just be in a “no-shopping” phase, so it’s critical that you analyse their past activity, purchases and other behaviour as these specific scenarios might require different types of reactivation campaigns. Once you understand why they may have become inactive you’re better positioned to develop an engaging win-back campaign.

The next step is to develop your reactivation campaign, but you should only embark on a win-back campaign if you’ve ticked all the right boxes, such as:

  • Isolated the inactive segment in your database;
  • Taken action to ensure a better experience for your readers;
  • You have new content to offer;

And most importantly, the campaign must be backed by a powerful marketing and communication tool that will systematically re-integrate inactive subscribers who re-engage into your core marketing communications program. Don’t be afraid to utilize more than one marketing channel to complement your reactivation campaign. It is all about getting in front of your customer again, and being innovative.

Reactivation campaign ideas

Consider including some of these tactics in your campaign:

  • Write an irresistible subject line;
  • Personalise the email with activity data, or custom information fields to appeal to individual readers. Consider promoting items or content that fit with past purchases or engagement;
  • Update the format or layout with a redesigned template or by changing the way you use images;
  • Offer an amazing purchase incentive and a restated value proposition;
  • Ask them to fill out a short survey, rate your messages, or to tell you how your email can better meet their needs, etc.;
  • Invite subscribers to update their personal information or switch their communication preferences to print, SMS or other channels;
  • Inform them of changes or improvements to your website, content plan or other news;
  • Ask the subscriber to opt-in to remain on your list and explain that you will not send more mail if they choose not to opt-in;
  • Send a farewell message (with a link to opt-in again);

Also remember to streamline this content for increased subscriber engagement. In short, keep content above the fold, get your message across as quickly as possible, and include a prominent unsubscribe link to minimise the probability of a subscriber getting impatient and clicking the "report spam" button in an attempt to stop future emails.


It is commonly believed that acquiring a new customer is more costly than keeping an existing one. Therefore, reactivation strategies are often a great way to generate increased engagement or sales and should thus be something to consider. However, while the cost per-message to send email is relatively low, sending messages continually to people who don’t want to engage with you any longer is a waste of resources, potentially an irritation to the customer and a threat to the success of future campaigns.

If you have employed reactivation campaigns and yet are still convinced that these subscribers are unlikely to re-engage with you, we recommend you remove them from your active distribution list and focus on your engaged subscribers instead.