When to cull your email marketing list
How successful was your last email marketing campaign? When answering this question, most companies look at:
- Email Open Rates
- Unsubscribes and Spam Complaints
Worldwide open rates hover at around 18% and click rates at around 1.6%. This varies widely from industry to industry, and country to country. While it's great to benchmark performance against other organisations, the best indicator of the quality of your emails performance is how much it varies from past engagement rates.
Think about things from the perspective of your subscribers
How many email lists have you personally signed up for in the last week? The last month? The last six months?
If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably thousands. I have over 15,000 unread emails in my personal Gmail (and I’m proud of it). The vast majority of these are emails whose subject lines failed to capture my attention, or from companies who I am no longer interested in.
How much of the internet is like me in this regard? It's now considered best practice grow your email marketing list by either:
- Hiding your best content behind a paywall
- Agitating them enough to force them to sign up through pop-ups
How much of your email marketing list actually wanted to sign up compared to how many were pushed into doing so? Do they really want to receive regular communications from you, or where they just interested in the guide that you'd written on toenail maintenance or identity theft for dummies?
What about the people on your list who never signed up to be on your list?
If you run an established company, it is possible that you have emails dating back to the dawn of the internet. How long has it been since you had any meaningful interaction with each person on that list? Did you ever have a meaningful interaction with that person?
What should you do when someone hasn't interacted with your monthly newsletters for the past six months? They haven't unsubscribed, but they aren't exactly interested in your emails either.
It may be time for a cull
If someone hasn't interacted with your marketing campaigns for a long time, they are essentially a dead or inactive prospect.
While many people think of sales and marketing as numbers games, having inactive prospects on your email marketing list can hurt your email marketing efforts in many ways.
What are the reasons to clean up your email marketing list
People want personalised emails
One message does not suit everyone. Marketers that realise this are getting wildly high engagement rates with through email marketing. They create customer persona’s and take the time to fully explore the customer's journey from awareness to purchase and set up marketing automation to ensure the right message reaches the right customer at the right time.
By contrast, bad marketers pump emails out like it's a factory production line. The same message goes out to every single person on the list at exactly the same time.
I know what type of message I'd like to receive in my inbox.
Avoiding the prying eye of Spam Traps
What happens to your email address when you leave a company? It may get taken on by someone else in the organisation, or it could get turned into a spam trap.
A spam trap is a disused email address that is used to signal that a company might be sending spam. This could be an internal spam trap (the IT guys make it less likely that your emails reach their companies inbox) or an external one (ISP’s and anti-spam agencies stop your emails from going into inboxes, or choose to mark it as spam).
Think about who worked at your company ten years ago compared to who is still there now? Now think about how many times you've updated your email list in the last ten years? Can you start to see the problem?
By regularly maintaining your email list, you make it far less likely that your organisation will trigger SPAM traps. This means you are far more likely to be seen by the rest of the contacts in your email list who actually want to see your content and have a chance of actually buying your product or service.
While it is true that email marketing is relatively cost-effective, there is still a cost associated with using email sending programs like MailChimp.
For instance, it costs approximately 20 cents for each subscriber per year for every subscriber you have on MailChimp. In larger lists, this adds up.
The biggest cost comes from having inactive contacts sitting on a CRM. Most sophisticated marketing operations link their email lists up with contacts on a CRM. The cost of each contact on your CRM can be quite high. For instance, it costs around $1.62 for each additional contact per year, per user in Hubspot.
For a company with 1000 excess companies and just five employees, this would end up costing over $8000 per year!
Which brings me to my next point. The more contacts you have on your CRM, the harder it is to find the ones who might actually buy anything from you.
Dead and inactive accounts bloat our figures and make it harder to see significant changes in engagement rates. They also hurt our average engagement rates and can cause people to lose motivation to send good emails, and send emails that are 'good enough' instead.
Staying up to date with changing privacy and anti-spam laws
The final reason that companies may want to start culling inactive accounts is concern over data-security, the possibility of data theft, and changing anti-spam laws.
In Europe, Recent changes to privacy act called the General Data Protection Regulation place a lot more responsibility on companies to obtain knowledgeable consent and let users know what exactly their data will be used for.
Currently, Australian Anti-Spam laws require marketers to obtain consent before sending out email marketing But this doesn't have to be explicit, and can be inferred (e.g. an existing business relationship, or simply having products that might interest the recipient). The DCMA changes place the burden of proof onto marketers to specify exactly why they have that person's information.
If companies are unaware as to why they hold someone's information, then they could be liable under the new regulation changes. And we can expect a cascade effect, where other countries change their laws to match Europe's laws.
"It's tempting to collect a lot of data about people, and in the early days of e-marketing there were visions of segmentation and interaction based on demographics. However the fact is this data is rarely used and we now understand the impact that a data leak will have on your supporters willingness to trust an organisation.
It's simply no longer worth collecting more data than is needed because the brand damage when the data is lost, stolen, shared or hacked is simply too high."
Who to remove from your list
Remove anyone who has never been engaged.
Has your list has been bloated through paid subscribers, old web scraping exercises and adding anyone who did not explicitly opt-in.
Most CRMs let you sort by inactivity, which will allow you to find anyone who has been inactive for a certain period of time. If your CRM has been configured correctly, you should also be able to see who has and has not made a purchase previously.
Remove anyone who has never made a purchase and has never interacted with your company.
Give your subscribers the option to receive fewer emails.
For the people who have some a history of meaningful interaction with your company (past engagement, past customers), the next thing you are going to try and do is force a reaction from them.
This means sending emails with attention-grabbing headlines asking them if they still want to receive emails from you. Give them the option of opting out, and also the option of opting down (receiving two-three emails per year, instead of an email every week or month).
Send two or three of these emails over a period of a month. If you still haven't received any contact from these contacts, then for whatever reason they are no longer interested in receiving your emails.
Remove the people who have never bought anything from your list from your CRM, and then try reaching out to the remaining dis-engaged customers.
Try reaching people outside of email
There are many reasons that people might not be interacting with your emails. Not being interested is just one of them, others can include that they don't check the email address you have on file regularly, aren't seeing the emails or no longer use the email address.
To get around this, you can try reaching out to them in other ways including:
- Phone calls
- Face-to-face networking
- Paper mailouts
- LinkedIn InMail
- Facebook Custom Segments
The next time you are about to hit the send button, pause and think about what value that email adds to your subscribers, or just who it is you are sending your message too. If you aren't 100% clear on either of these elements, then you may need to go back and re-examine your email marketing efforts.