Note: This post is part of a special holiday blog series created by our Expert Services Team at SendGrid to provide information on how to prepare and get the most out of your email campaigns this year.

It’s easy to understand the eagerness for companies to gather up user addresses from every corner of their email database ahead of the retail frenzy of Black Friday through New Years. It often proves to be the most profitable time of year for marketers, and the leadership at your company may have an expectation that as a sender, you’ll be ramping up your sending volume to new heights (oftentimes incremental to last year).

The last thing you’ll want to explain is why you didn’t email every address on your list, “leaving money on the table,” especially since many retailers don’t fully understand the pitfalls of getting too aggressive with your mailing list.

In addition to keeping your list engaged, I want to share some tips to keep in mind when trying to get those lapsed users activated again leading up to this joyous (see: stressful) marketing season.

Define lapsed users

First, let’s agree on some definitions. More and more I’m seeing companies define an “active user” as anyone who has given them their email address within this decade, even if the recipient hasn’t given them so much as an occasional email open.

Think about how much email you get in a day, and then consider how many messages you may get in six months! I understand that different business models define active and lapsed users in different ways, as they should. But, for the sake of conversation, in most retail models, I would implore senders to start considering email addresses as lapsed well within a year since the last message open they provided.

Get started now

Now that we got that public service announcement appetizer out of the way, let’s get to the main course (I’m so sorry). These are some things you need to be thinking about and/or acting on as you’re trying to re-energize the disengaged portion of your lists.

You should be starting now. Black Friday will be here before you know it. Time, she’s a wastin’.

It can take a full calendar year to nail down a framework and cadence before a satisfactory re-engagement strategy can be fully implemented.

And it’s always a moving target, so between now and November, start small with different tests, but start.

At a high level, dedicate a specific campaign to winning these users back. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Create templates that are concise and compelling.
  • Test different subject lines that really generate interest.
  • Use this opportunity to re-emphasize the value that this user can expect to get from being a subscriber to your program.
  • Do you have a loyalty program? What kind of perks go along with that, especially in context of the upcoming holiday season?
  • This could include early access to promotions, additional promotions, product previews, etc.

Capitalize on personalization

Another thing that you should always include, and is also incredibly important for re-engagement campaigns, is personalization! If you only have so much as a first name, use it in the subject line. If you have more, use as much as possible.

Customize the content of the message to include related products to what a customer had previously purchased, or browsed on your site, or even abandoned in their cart. Opening the message is only half the battle for retailers, but if you’re able to show the user that you know their preferences and why they engaged with your brand in the first place, you’re improving your odds to win their loyalty back.

Test automated deploys

Next, instead of relying on one last catch-all campaign that will go out as a manual push once or twice before the holidays, integrate and test an automatic deployment cadence. Do your re-engagement campaigns tend to get more opens from recipients who last opened 4-5 months ago, or 5-6 months ago? Try each of them and see. Once you are satisfied with the results, try to build automatic deployment to all users who meet that criteria every day.

Once you know your sweet spot, you can try to reach users at different increments prior to this. Maybe a quick “check in” campaign after a user hasn’t opened an email in a month—at this point, they aren’t lapsed yet and you are trying to keep them from getting there.

For deployment strategy, I would advise that marketers do not send to all of their lapsed users in a short amount of time; that would be punching a one-way ticket to Spamville pretty quickly. Instead, plan on doing small deployments of your re-engagement campaign in low increments along with your typical campaigns.

For example, say that 6 days a week you have a regular campaign going out to 500K users. I would recommend adding your separate re-engagement campaign to that, but targeting no more than 25-50K recipients. You’ll still get actionable intelligence in the data, but it won’t be so much risky traffic that your regular mail will be vulnerable.

Remember, monitoring that data is going to be very important during this time too. Ask yourself the following:

  • What do your engagement metrics look like for this traffic?
  • Are you hitting an inordinate amount of spam traps whenever mailing to this group?

If you see a jump in spam trap hits, and/or a significant deviation in engagement numbers, something is going on and it would benefit you to slow the lapsed campaign until you understand the what/where/why/who behind it.

ISPs expect senders to dynamically react to how their end-users interact with their messages. If you are taking the next two months ‘n’ change to prove your worth to your customers, they’ll hopefully engage with your messages, and the ISPs won’t have any reason to filter your content to the spam folder or worse.

Be mindful

This brings me to dessert (last one, I promise): a free bonus tip. Whether or not you take this opportunity to re-engage with your lapsed customers, the holidays are not the time to go rogue and start sending every contact you have three messages a day. This is one of the most important times of the year for ISPs too, and the sending reputation you make for yourself during this time will stick with you long after the eggnog has gone bad and city workers are sweeping “2018” novelty party glasses out of street gutters.

Lastly, for all of the executives and various marketing leadership out there, email marketing revenue is not a volume-based metric; it’s a value-based metric. Don’t force your perceived value to your customers; let them steer your decisions.

For more holiday sending tips, check out a recent webcast I recorded with my fellow Delivery Consultant, Will Boyd: Holiday Sending Hacks.

Seth Charles
An email nerd at heart, Seth has been working in the deliverability and marketing space for six years. He loves solving problems, helping educate SendGrid's customers, and being a part of the email community. As a sixth-generation Coloradan, he always enjoys being outside (especially if it means getting a round of golf in), and thinks John Elway should be the Emperor of Colorado.