Why Your Email Universe is Flat

In this post the term Email Universe is used to mean your total list of unique email addresses that have opted-in at the time of measurement. Regardless of past purchase status with the brand or enterprise. The term Active Email Universe is used to mean a unique email address that has opened or clicked at least one email in 6 months. They are Active status because they recently confirmed engagement with your email marketing.

One frustration I have encountered from marketing executives is the lack of success in growing their Email Universe. All parties are collaborating and putting the work in and attention paid. But the month over month gain is minimal. More flat than anything resembling growth. Even more frustrating the Active Email Universe metrics follow the same pattern. You are identifying all the engaged customers and treating them well and with relevant content. But the periodic metrics don’t move that much. There is a reason for that. You may want to consider changing metrics and reporting to view your email list as an Email Universe instead of a lifeless thing you use to generate lists passed around for batch style action and single campaigns. So how do you do this? A change in perspective about churn and email engagement may be in order.

The reality of email engagement is that most of your emails are ignored entirely. If you do a simple frequency by email address, per quarter, summing the number of opens clicks you will prove something important for this perspective change. That only a small portion of your email universe is engaging daily or frequently. Most of the email address that make up most of your sales looked at only a couple of emails. No action on the rest. Stop thinking that because a subscriber hasn’t opened or clicked in the last 6 months somehow that inaction translates into brand contempt.

Now for proper perspective on the churn of an Email Universe. If you take a snapshot of your Email Universe today and then again two days from now what happened? 4 possible scenarios.

1) A new email address arrived for the first time
2) An email address that left the universe in the past returned
3) An existing email address left
4) An existing email address stayed

Now what are the possible churn scenarios for your Active Email Universe between two measurements? This is your subset of the universe that recently engaged with your emails at least once.

1) A new email address engaged for the first time making them active (+)
2) An inactive email address opened or clicked making them active again (+)
3) An active email address has become inactive by opt-out or non-engagement (-)
4) An active email address remained active (0)

Reasons #2 and #3 and the lack of strategy and investment in those groups may be why you struggle to grow your email program. Your focus might cater to the new and currently engaged and stop there. Once an existing subscriber in your universe stops engaging for 6 to 12 months they are frequently completely forgotten. Or passive and half-hearted attempts are made at reactivation.
Never to be marketed to again in many cases. They have a previous relationship with your brand. They have spent lots of money with you before. Do a join on existing subscribers that last engaged 12-24 months ago and how much they spent in that 12-24 month period. You probably will have an epiphany that you are leaving money on the table. I have done this many times for many different brands and come back with data about the millions of subscribers that spent hundreds of millions less than two fiscal years ago.

So why does this happen? A couple of reasons. The first is the Email Service Providers guard heavily against spam blocks and maintaining the integrity of IPs with big domains. Rightly so. Their most important function is the delivery of the email. But they have their own algorithms and proprietary methods that conflict with your brand’s interests. The decisions are made for you in terms of your unengaged customer’s potential interest. A lot of their secret sauce relies on their making the decision that you haven’t clicked on this brand for 18 months so you must not want anything from them ever. It protects and makes the deliverability numbers 99%. This message gets back to retailers. That “X” period of inactivity means presumed dead. In turn marketers start marketing this way. Once you become inactive that is it. Too much of risk for spam filters to kill an entire campaign. When reactivation is tried open and click rates are low and revenue per click and standard metrics poor. In turn phrases such as “they are not worth it” and “not valuable” are used. Creating a culture that makes investing in your Inactive Email Universe a risk not worth taking. Groups that spent hundreds of millions 18 months ago aren’t valuable anymore?

The key is the perspective on what success marketing to the inactive group means for your brand. Will the campaigns be a newly found pillar of enterprise wide growth and profit? Not a chance. Will the metrics be sexy so you can say look what I did in meetings and be the star at happy hour? That is a negative. The reason you do it is because some things you do just because you know you have to. Marketing to your existing customers who have forgotten about you is important. They make up most of your revenue and profit in the last 5 years and most of the volume of your Email Universe. If you disregard this group you are relying with too much risk on your new customer acquisition.

CMOs must allow their marketing managers to try and fail with this group. Test big and fast with them to find what works even in the smallest ways. The success metrics must be different. The sense of what you are trying to accomplish must be different. You don’t look at a 3% open and a .5% click rate for an inactive push and stomp failure immediately. Instead you look and say ok we successfully put 2,000 unique email addresses back into the Active Email Universe. You focus on the fact that the open-to-click rate was incredibly high for the very few that engaged and the revenue per click was competitive with the active universe. Somebody was interested! Unsub rate was lower than a standard campaign so it is not like this was some offensive reach made by the brand. Working the huge volume of your Inactive Email Universe takes commitment, creativity, and is where you can most make a difference with your marketing talent. While it is hard to move this group focusing on inactives can give you the gains across KPIs over a year that turn flat into growing. Or turn declining into flat.

Marketing to your core customers is easy. They buy a lot of items, frequently, join your programs, and self-provide all the data you ask them too. Your marketing talent and experience is most needed with the rest. Email is a cheap channel. It is a 1-1 channel. You have lots of historical data on millions of customers so you can define relevant content to dozens of unique clusters to get them back. All marketing is not an immediate win. Change the perspective and conversation about your Email Universe so you can use all of it.

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