Win Back Programs: Smart Marketing or Failure of Strategy?


Building programs to re-engage dormant leads is a necessity for many email marketers, particularly those that have not had buttoned-up strategy for segmentation and targeted communications in the past.  List re-engagement and “win-back” program strategy was the open forum discussion topic at the February meeting of the Email Experience Council’s List Growth and Engagement Roundtable.

“If you need to do re-engagement after a long period of subscriber inactivity, that is a failure of strategy,” suggested Stephanie Miller, VP, Return Path and Vice Chair of the eec.  “Marketers who are trying to catch up have a steep road.  Rather, win-backs should be a consistent part of your segmentation strategy.”

Bottom line, Stephanie pointed out, effective email marketers reach out early in the cycle and “shouldn’t have a situation in which someone hasn’t responded in a long time.”

Ultimately, the question of glass half-empty or half-full regarding re-engagement may boil down to the buyer. In BtoB, noted Bulldog Solutions’ Amy Bills, list re-engagement can be an effective way to generate more ROI from an existing database. “A lot of time and money has probably been spent putting together that list.  Marketers are looking at making the most of it.”

Yael Penn of i360 Marketing reframed the concept of re-engagement as an ongoing effort. “In BtoB we’re always thinking about reengagement strategies. We’re planning re-engagement from the start.  BtoB purchases are more complex and the sales cycle is much longer. Sometimes a company is only doing the research now and they are not ready to make the purchase decision for six months.  In BtoC,  the reason to buy is impulse; in BtoB, because the sales cycle is different, re-engagement can be more effective.”

On the BtoC side, ExactTarget’s Nate Romance said, “There is risk to carrying a lot of dead weight. We’re hearing re-engagement as a drumbeat in reputation management and deliverability. If you’re beating on 60% of your list that is not responding, it’s costing you something.” (Some more on low engagement concerns here.)
A discussion of specific re-engagement strategies included:

  • Ideas for engagement tactics including changing the subject line format, adding interactive elements like polls or surveys, featuring a high-value offer and highlighting exclusive information.  Sometimes just asking straight out can work, too.  “We hate spam, too.  Let us know if you want to stay on the file,” can be an effective approach, Stephanie noted.
  • Nate described test findings regarding language used to confirm a prospect’s interest and willingness to stay on a list. “We did some testing and found that inclusion of the ‘No’ option caused more ‘Yes’ responses,” he said.
  • The preference center tactic—asking people to “update their information” had not been found by the group to be a compelling re-engagement tool. “With a true re-engagement we typically encourage a strong call to action,” Nate said. “Not enough people do a good job of explaining what’s in it for the recipient to fill out preferences. It’s perceived by subscribers as the marketer’s tool, having little value to them, he said.   

We hear a lot about engagement being effective and necessary – but the pressing need for re-engagement  is a reminder that engagement must be earned with every message sent, Stephanie suggested.   Nate agreed, “If you want to optimize the value of your email marketing asset, you must keep the file engaged and fresh.  That is more than a one-time win back campaign, but an imperative for your content strategy.”

Place your comments below to tell us what you are doing to engage – and re-engage; we’d love to feature your efforts in a future blog post or as part of the Roundtable’s discussions.   Also, check out the List Growth & Engagement Roundtable’s 2010 Benchmark Guide to see how your list growth efforts stack up.



4 thoughts on “Win Back Programs: Smart Marketing or Failure of Strategy?

  1. Marketing in general is failure driven in principle. The goal is not to avoid failure but to minimize risk and costs through the process … so I believe Winback/Reactivation is ??required? marketing, not ??smart marketing?… But to that point, many don??t have the resources to focus on the engaging all customer data sets, so it is often not the highest priority if you aren??t doing all you can for the actively engaged or active buyer segments… It will be interesting to see if email groups can shift acquisition budgets from Search and Media and align with Winback and reactivation programs and see how that vets out vs. open ended acquisition. But trying to do it with email ??only? budgets isn??t realistic for most….

  2. Bill’s comment is key ?? some business models lend themselves well to Winback (ie retail, frequent purchase, event-driven businesses like Proflowers depend on the strategy).

    I don??t think Cisco Systems sells enterprise systems to Fortune 100 companies with as much dependency on Winback strategies as Proflowers (though who knows, perhaps they leverage them in their sales-customer service programs to good use).

    Email-only budgets, as David points out, are going to be imo less impactful unless a business prioritizes (obviously) their email relationships as primary to other channel engagement.

    Loyalty and dedication to a brand has always been about experiences that provide meaning, and engagement that is a cta to the consumer as well as the brand, or service ?? to stand up and perform in the marketplace.

    I don??t believe that Winback strategies should be debated at the campaign level, they are a microcosm for a larger marketing need, brand loyalty and advocacy.

  3. No, you have not failed if members?? life style and preference changes have occurred over time creating segments of unengaged subscribers. The re-engagement communication strategy is no doubt critical and must be tested against your audience. Even more critical I would argue is the Win-Back segmentation strategy. To Nate??s point, you eventually reach that threshold of risk vs. reward?? ??it??s costing you something?. Quick analogy??

    We??ve all picked up that banana that is starting to brown, but are determined to slice away the brown pieces and still enjoy this always aging fruit. Such is our marketing list, constantly aging and we need to identify the brown spots. To do so you need more than the data you have on the member, which looks a lot like this – didn??t respond to Win-back campaign A-Z.

    Solution: Appending and data mining partner behavioral data helps you identify the brown vs. the yellow parts. OK, now we are ready to eat the yellow parts?? not so fast. We need to further combine the segmentation strategy with our communication strategy. On a per member basis we could test and do Win-back offer pool selection (subject line and creative options A,B,C, etc.) and time of day segmentation?? Oh, and it would be nice if the execution of all this was automated. David’s comment hones in on the challenge, "many don??t have the resources to focus on engaging all the customer data".

    No one wants to eat the brown part of the banana ?? for more detail without any fruit analogies see this Win-Back Strategy Video –

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