Advanced Email Marketing Techniques, Part 1: Re-Engagement Campaigns

September 25, 2020

Author: Angela Noble

Author: Angela Noble

Email marketing is the most important digital marketing channel, with an ROI of $42 for every $1 spent according to a 2019 report from Data & Marketing Association. In the same report, marketers and consumers listed email marketing as their most preferred marketing channel. 91% of marketers ranked it #1, and 59% of consumers said they prefer email as a marketing channel ahead of any other channels. 

We’ve written in length about the benefits of email marketing over the years. We have resources on how to get started with email marketing, how to pick an ESP (we recommend MailChimp), and ways to enhance your email efforts.

If you’ve got the basics down, have set up a MailChimp account, and are ready to dive in to using more advanced features and strategies, let us show you our top tips on how you can start increasing engagement and getting more conversions.

In this series of Advanced Email Marketing Techniques, we’ll cover the following:

Please let us know if you’d like to see any other topics covered in future series.

Email Re-Engagement Campaigns

If you have a large subscriber list full of inactive contacts that you suspect may not be interested in your offerings, it’s time to clean your list. A bigger list is not better. Your list size should not be an indicator of the success of your email marketing campaigns. 

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that having fewer subscribers is better, but having inactive email subscribers can hurt your deliverability . It can also lead to unnecessary extra costs from your ESP. 

You’ll also be able to more effectively measure your open rates and click-through rates to valid and engaged subscribers without these inactive subscribers affecting your data. 

The average open rates for email is 17.8% and the average click-through rate is 2.6%, according to Campaign Monitor’s Ultimate Email Marketing Benchmarks for 2020. If your rates are below these averages (also reference benchmarks by industry below), it may be time to clean your list. 

chart showing metric averages by industry for open, click, click-to-open, unsubscribe, and bounce rates

Rather than simply removing inactive subscribers, you do want to give these unengaged subscribers a chance to re-engage and stay on your list. This is where the re-engagement campaign (sometimes called a win back campaign) comes in.

1. Define Your Parameters

The first step is to define what “inactive” or “unengaged” means in relation to your subscriber list. We typically define an inactive subscriber as one that has not opened (or clicked) any emails in the last 6 months. You can be more lenient or more stringent in your parameters based on the frequency of sends or other factors important to your business or strategy.

According to Return Path’s 2018 Look Book, re-engagement campaigns have a re-engagement rate of 20% (measured by Read Rate, which is similar to Open Rate but slightly more specific and not included in all ESP data). We suggest using either open rate or click-through rate to determine who stays on your list and who is removed.

2. Create Your Re-Engagement Email Campaign

We recommend using either a 1- or 2-part campaign. A 1-part campaign is a little simpler and doesn’t require an automation component. A 2-part campaign gives your inactive subscribers two chances to re-engage before they are removed. 

If you are confident your inactive subscribers are not likely to be of value or re-engage, a 1-part campaign is the way to go. If you’re still holding out hope that many of your inactive subscribers just need a reminder to re-engage, a 2-part campaign may be better for you.

1-Part Campaign Example

Here’s an example of a 1-part re-engagement campaign we ran for our client a few months ago. 

When we started working with them, we immediately noticed they had a large list but very low engagement rates. CTRs should be 1.2-4.1% or higher depending on industry; theirs on average was 0.3%. 

We also noticed their list size had jumped from 2,000 subscribers to 13,000 in a single day about a year prior to us being hired to take over their digital marketing. This is a red flag because often these types of list inflations are filled with subscribers that may not have opted in and are likely uninterested in the offering. These are the types of subscribers that will cause massive deliverability problems so we knew it was important to clean this list.

We set our send-to parameters as any subscriber who had not opened ALL of the last 10 campaigns that were sent (the client was averaging 1 email per month, so this covered nearly a year). As suspected, nearly half their total subscribers were inactive based on these parameters.

We included a simple and straight forward question in the subject and email text, “Are you still interested in hearing from us?”. We also included a reminder of the benefits this organization provides to subscribers to entice them to stay engaged. Finally, our call to action was for subscribers to click through to the website to stay subscribed. 

email example screenshot with text "are you still interested in hearing from us?" text and button

The campaign resulted in 6.4% opens and 2.2% clicks. As you can see above, we defined the re-engagement parameter to be those who clicked on the email. This is much more stringent than campaigns based on open rates. We did this intentionally based on the very low quality of these subscribers (judged by on-going high bounce rates, unsubscribe rates, and very low engagement rates). 

Overall, we identified about 100 subscribers to keep (those who clicked), and we unsubscribed the rest.

After running a re-engagement campaign, it’s really not until your next regular campaign that you’ll see the results in your engagement numbers. Of course, removing these unengaged subscribers is sure to increase your open rates and click-through rates. This gives you more valid data to judge your success by.

Our next campaign resulted in a 700% increase in click-through rate. We went from 0.3% average to 2.4%, which is excellent for this organization’s industry.

2-Part Campaign Example

In a circumstance where you suspect many of your inactive subscribers may still be of high value, a 2-part campaign may be better suited. This strategy has more lenient re-engagement parameters and gives subscribers two chances to re-engage.

Here’s an example for another of our clients, where we run a 2-part engagement campaign every 6 months. We also include more parameters to ensure we don’t remove certain subscribers that the client has tagged as important, regardless of their engagement.

Our send-to parameters are any subscriber who has not opened ALL of the last 20 campaigns and who was added within the last 6 months. This is important because a subscriber who was just added would not have been able to open all of the last 20 campaigns since those emails were sent prior to them joining the list.

These inactive subscribers are sent part 1 of the campaign:

email example screenshot with headline "our catalog has grown since you last visited." supporting text and button

Any subscribers that do not open part 1 are sent part 2 after three days.

email example screenshot with headline "are you still interested in hearing from us?" supporting text and button

The messaging within the email and in the subject line and preheader becomes increasingly direct from part 1 to part 2.

Though the calls to action in both of these emails are to click, we defined our re-engagement parameter as anyone who did not open either email in the series (of course, if they did open part 1, they were not sent part 2 at all). We then unsubscribed anyone who did not open the emails.

Our initial campaign resulted in only a 5.2% open rate on part 2 of the series, indicating there were a large number of very inactive and uninterested subscribers present on the list. Since then, we’ve run the campaign two more times (every 6 months) and open rates have been 19% and 20% respectively, more in-line with the averages mentioned above from Return Path’s report.

3. Remove Unengaged Subscribers

As you saw from the examples above, the last step is to use the results to clean your list of any unengaged subscribers based on the parameters you’ve defined for re-engagement.

This step can be the most difficult since you’ve probably worked hard to grow your list over time. Keep in mind, there is really no good reason to keep these inactive subscribers, especially since you’ve specifically reached out to double check they are, in fact, inactive. The harm outweighs any possible benefit here, and it’s time to say good bye!


As you can see, there are a lot of nuances in running re-engagement email campaigns. It’s important to base how you handle setting up your parameters and campaigns on your goals and the strategy you have in place for email marketing. 

For those with large (1,000+ subscribers) or aging subscriber lists, we recommend running re-engagement campaigns at least once per year to ensure you’re removing any subscribers who have become inactive, regardless of your engagement rates.

If you need help creating an email marketing strategy or setting up a re-engagement campaign, schedule a complimentary consultation with us today.

Let’s Talk