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7 Ways to Use Email to Combat Email Disengagement

For many consumers, email is the lifeline through which they maintain relations with businesses. In fact, seven in 10 adults prefer email as their primary marketing communications channel, with 91% indicating that they like to receive promotional emails from companies they do business with, according to survey data from marketing research firm Marketing Sherpa.

It’s impossible to deny the potency of email as a marketing channel in the face of such findings. But email’s low cost and effectiveness has, far too often, led to over-emailing that causes email fatigue among recipients. The inevitable outcome of email fatigue? Disengagement.

Surprisingly, however, due to email’s acceptance and proliferation, many marketers actually turn to the channel when seeking ways to reengage those fatigued customers.

“[Email] is not a fleeting moment like some other channels—there’s a real opportunity to impress value upon customers as email creates an impression on the user in the inbox; but email’s ability to be effective as a reengagement channel is directly tied to what caused disengagement in the first place,” says Kara Trivunovic, VP of digital solutions at Epsilon.

Remedying disengagement is perhaps one of marketing’s toughest challenges, but doing so is a must. If a customer opts in to email communication and regularly engages with a brand’s email content, only to gradually (or suddenly) withdraw from communication, this is a signal marketers need to address to ensure that they retain that customer. Just as marketers must apply sophisticated email strategies to acquire new customers, they must use savvy email tactics to reengage customers. Here we explore seven ways marketers can do just that.

Get to the root cause

Customers disengage with emails for myriad reasons. Perhaps their tastes have changed. Maybe their need for a particular product or service has waned. Or perhaps the emails they’re receiving don’t meet their expectations.

“Go back to the beginning and understand why a customer started engaging with your email program in the first place. Did they subscribe via a purchase cycle? Or perhaps you acquired them through a newsletter or promotion?” Trivunovic says. “Going back to the point of acquisition will allow you to understand what your customers expected when they signed up for your program, then [you can] deliver content that is relevant to these expectations.”

Some marketers may assume that customers are disengaging because they feel bombarded; these marketers may respond by curbing the frequency of their email campaigns. By scaling back email communications without understanding customers’ motivation for disengaging, marketers could potentially make the situation worse.

“Scaling back from a frequency perspective may help in the short term but you still need to understand why [customers] aren’t engaging. It’s important to determine the disconnect and adjust your reengagement strategy accordingly,” Trivunovic says. “Consider surveying customers to learn firsthand why they aren’t engaging. Ask them questions such as, ‘Are we getting it right?’ or, ‘What would you like to see from us?’ to better understand their needs and deliver more relevant content.”


Some of the most effective email campaigns are personalized in terms of content or triggers. Indeed, personalization is essential to relevance, which is among the most influential factors in the engagement equation.

“The key to using email effectively is ensuring the right content is delivered to customers at the right time. The more tailored the interaction, the more likely a customer is to be engaged,” says Gordon Evans, VP of product marketing at Salesforce Marketing Cloud. “Marketers should combine email with insights gained from customer data across the business, as well as with other channels and tools, to achieve this heightened level of personalization.”

Learn and act on customer preferences

If customers trust that a brand’s emails will help them solve a problem or meet a relevant need—and do so in what they consider to be a timely manner and at a frequency they prefer—their likelihood of disengaging should diminish.

“Be transparent with the consumer. Ask customers what they want to receive via email and how frequently they want to receive it and then provide it to them,” says David Brown, EVP of customer engagement agency Meredith Xcelerated Marketing. “Earn their trust so they can believe that when they open an email from you it will be relevant to them.”

Enabling customers to dictate the frequency of email via, say, a preference center can be a highly effective reengagement tool.

“Allow customers to have a hand in controlling the experience. Provide them with more options for timing, number of emails, etc.,” Evans says. “Marketers can do a lot of testing to optimize performance, but sometimes just asking people what they like and want can provide the best results.”

If you wouldn’t mail it, don’t email it

Although email remains one of the most cost effective and scalable marketing channels, marketers should ensure that they’re sending the best content at the best possible time—and not just send campaigns because email is “low cost” or “easy.”

“For every email you’re planning to send to a customer you should be asking yourself, ‘If I had to put a postage stamp on this and mail it, would I think it was worth it to send to my customer? Would they be willing to open it and read it?’ If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be emailing it either,” Brown says.

Ensure that emails are responsive, and visually optimized

Design and user experience are as important as the message itself in email marketing today. This is especially true for emails opened on a mobile device—especially if those emails have a call-to-action that marketers expect recipients to act on via mobile.

“Make sure that all of your email is mobile optimized. Some of your customers may have stopped engaging simply because they can’t read your email on their phone,” Brown says. “Everything today must not only be readable from a mobile device, it needs to look great on a mobile device.”

Know when to throw in the towel

While the goal should be to reengage customers, marketers must remember the importance of knowing when it’s time to let a customer go. Keeping customer data up-to-date is vital to this because it allows marketers to better understand their customers.

“It’s important that you keep your email list clean and periodically remove those [customers who] have stopped engaging. If you don’t, your overall program results suffer—plus you begin to look more and more like a spammer,” Brown says. “Make sure that you’re working to reengage, but also set a timeline for how frequently you will remove customers from your active email list.”

Change channels

Despite email’s effectiveness in reengaging even those customers suffering from email overload, in some cases if customers disengage from a brand explicitly because of the brand’s email practices, the reality is that another channel may prove more effective in bringing those customers back.

“Reengagement might not always happen via the email channel,” Trivunovic says. “You need to take a step back from your program, understand how customers are engaging across all channels and address your reengagement program accordingly.

“Understand what the experience was leading up to disengagement and apply this logic to your reengagement strategy accordingly. If a customer is showing activity on a mobile text program, but not engaging in email, you have to consider that reality.”

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