15th Jul 2014

Win Back Campaigns – How Long Do You Wait?

Marketing campaigns have many uses – but they ALWAYS have a use. In a well-crafted, innovative marketing campaign contains a call to action that resonates with the audience and drives them to be part of your product. If you are canny with your marketing, well segmented email lists are aplenty in your databases, and you have a choice of demographics to target.

Return Path have uncovered some great research that helps keep your databases lean and productive, if you choose to listen what they say. Much effort is put into collecting email addresses, but not as much effort is put into keeping those lists performing at peak capacity, and even less is known about keeping them relevant and how long they are productive.

Email marketing is economical and effective, and relatively easy to use. You will have some demographics in a, ‘Shut up and take my money’, database, but what about the others? How many of them need a seminal ‘win back’ email to galvanise them into action? Then how long do you wait for them to call before consigning them to the ‘lost in cyber space’ list? It’s a tough question…

… now here’s the answer.


According to the company Return Path, who analyzed 300 million email messages sent by well-known brands to over 100 million consumers, many marketers are giving up too early. On top of that, Brands from different industries sending out these emails were also choosing to drop subscribers at random, stopping sending emails to 4% of subscribers even though it appeared that 85% were not actually active.

In both cases research bailed out the fact that your mother was right – patience is a virtue.

The study reads:

Approximately 12% of all win-back messages were read, typically within a few days of delivery. However, as many as 45% of recipients later engaged with the sender’s email program, taking an average of 57 days – nearly two months – to read additional messages.

Let’s look at what that means in a real life application.

A marketer’s goal may be that they want an open rate within a few days of delivery, so may mark an account as ‘inactive’ after that small of a window. If 45% of recipients engage with the email originator within 57 days, 45% of those accounts are not dormant – they’re just not opening their emails very quickly.

If anyone promised you an email open and success rate of 45% I am guessing you would jump at it. In that case, the chances are you already have it; you’re just switching off your metrics or deleting accounts before they have a chance to think about it and answer.

In this age where ‘instant’ in ‘in’, people still need time to think and compare before committing. Give them that time. Do not cast someone off because they don’t read their emails as often as you would like them to, cast them off because they aren’t engaging at all after you’ve given them some time to think. And don’t be tempted to hang onto what you perceive to be ‘good’ accounts; if they are not active, they are not a good account. Move them out and maybe, just maybe, you’ll move someone in that will be much more productive.


Return Path suggests that 90 days is the magic number for evaluation. After a win back email is sent watch your audience carefully, the first 9 days is usually the time you get the most activity, but for the highest activity wait for 60 days before making any productivity decisions, and 90 days for any culling decisions.

The study also uncovered that Win Back databases also needed to be segmented for best effect – by mailbox provider. The study said:

“The findings show that mailbox providers’ definitions of inactivity, and their tolerance for inactivity before filtering messages, are different enough to necessitate customized win-back campaign formulas.”

What that means is that each mailbox provider had its own metrics for abandoned mail and spam filtering, so a different subject line or content could make all the difference to open rate for some providers. Universal subject line success were ‘Miss You’ and ‘Come Back’, but it may take some investigation to find out what works for your demographic.

It appears that as far as the open rate and read rate for different providers are concerned the results are also varied. AOL had the highest read rate at 23 percent. The average overall read-rate was 14 percent, with Gmail subscribers at 16 percent and Yahoo subscribers at 15 percent. This could have a lot to do with the metrics they use for abandoned mail, but gives you a good insight into what to expect.

Win Back emails are a great way to make your calls to action profitable for a long time, and makes your email lists work for the maximum amount of time. With these new benchmarks from Return Path you can monitor your databases and make them lean, mean, marketing machines – if you give them enough time to open, read and digest; the result could well be the same whether you are emailing Mr Tortoise or Mr Hare. Mr Tortoise was right, sometimes slow and steady really does win the race.