Waking Up Your Database

Waking Up Your Database

March 2020 | Digital Marketing

Inactive contacts make up a majority of most marketing databases, but not all unengaged email subscribers are deadwood. The right message can reengage them.

You call them, but they don't answer. You email them, but they don't open. You direct mail them, but they don't reply. Inactive contacts make up a large chunk of most mailing lists. It doesn't matter how you got their details, whether you collected an explicit opt in, gathered customer details from other departments or brought cold leads from a list broker. Some people simply don't respond to campaigns.

Inactive contacts make up the majority of most marketing databases. However, a lack of engagement with outbound campaigns does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest in your products or services. The reasons why contacts don't engage with your campaigns can be plentiful and aren't necessarily related to the quality of your campaigns or the relevance of your message.

First, there are the technical aspects of measuring engagement. Most analytics packages or marketing automation platforms rely on cookies to tie web visits back to individuals. If your audience are running ad blockers, then you won't be recording web activity in those tools. Browsers have started adding additional technical restrictions around cookies too, such as blocking insecure access to cookies in Chrome or expiring cookies for sites that haven't been visited recently in Safari. All that's even before the legal issues around tracking web activity back to a named individual are considered.

The existence of anti-tracking technologies means that your supposedly inactive contacts may actually be regular visitors to your website. If they've blocked cookies, then there's no way for you to know whether they've visited or who they truly are. It's not just web visits that are affected by ad blockers. Many security conscious people refuse to click on email links. Anti-phishing training teaches office workers not to click links unless they know where they go. That affects marketing emails too, given that most email marketing platforms disguise or redirect email links for tracking purposes. This can lead to recipients googling the CTA and clicks not being detected. The only measure of engagement that can be widely assumed to be accurate is form fills, but then many contacts go out of their way to avoid filling in forms too.

As such, it is important to avoid just blanket deleting contacts who aren't engaged without first asking them if they're interested in staying in your database. Most won't respond, but a few will. That's important in an era where contact acquisition is becoming increasingly difficult. Thus re-engagement campaigns are the order of the day, particularly for technical or security conscious audiences.

When designing re-engagement campaigns, it is important to remember the primary objective of the campaign is to drive form submissions. Ideally, this should include an opt in checkbox, even when using legitimate interest as the basis for all marketing communication. However, the opt in message should not be the primary focus of the campaign. A pure subscription message will rarely get a response unless your recipients are already secretly engaged. A different value proposition is needed.

Too many opt-in campaigns fail because the messaging is pitched to an audience of engaged prospects that have been interacting with your content. You're actually targeting cold prospects that have been deleting your messages without reading them. A catchy subject line should get people with an interest in your brand to open the email, but getting that vital click-through requires a concrete example of what contacts will get from engaging with your organisation, even if they're not in a position to buy from you at this point in time. They might be ready to buy in future, so keeping them in your database engaging them with nurture content will deliver results down the line.

Treat re-engagement as more of a brand campaign. Lead on your brand proposition and the value of your content to your audience. As such, the content and offers do need to be kept to a high level, and the goal of the campaign needs to be clear to the recipient. Linking on an actual asset or event can be risky due to GDPR restrictions on the collection of opt-ins. Opt-ins can't be incentivised, so any offer promoted in an opt-in email needs to be accessible to people who don't want to opt-in as well as those that do opt-in.

When linking to subscription pages or preference centres make it clear whether preferences need to be submitted for the opt-in to count. It's normally best to use a dedicated form for opt-in CTAs rather than a generic preference centre. Such an approach makes the user experience much clearer and removes unwanted distractions such as profile updates or unsubscribe options. Keep the form simple. Limit it to just the information you actually need to email someone. There's no need to collect name or company details, given you probably already have them and they're not needed until the point of lead generation anyway. These are existing contacts after all.

In most situations, the information needed to email someone will include topic or interest fields relating to an organisation's lines of business. Generally, determining product or solution interest for segmentation purposes is quite difficult. The point of opt-in is an exception because that's when contacts expect to be asked for such information. Don't go overboard though. Many organisations collect communication preferences they don't actually use. Focus on a small number of interests or communication streams that are regularly sent emails. Explain what they are, the type of content that will be sent, and how often emails will be received. Then give people the option of not choosing a stream, because most people won't want to make a choice. That's a good thing. You want to send them everything anyway.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.