Counting the Loose Change

Our good client Andrew Magpantay, Senior Product Manager at, coined a great expression when he spoke at our client seminar in Los Angeles on Thursday. He said that reconnecting with non-responders on the file is like gathering up the “loose change.” Sure, there is some value there, and if you have a lot of it lying around it adds up to real dollars, but the risk is that complaints rates are higher from these subscribers and there is a risk of spam traps from old addresses. To extend his analogy, the trick is to figure out if it’s worth the work to overturn the couch for a few dollars.

It’s a hard business decision to make. While there is typically very little revenue gain from continuing to email folks who are no longer interested in your messages or who have been bored by them for so long it would take a miracle to get them to finally open another — we marketers are ever hopeful. We truly do believe that even though the subscriber has been ignoring our messages for a year, that tomorrow just might be the day! The reality is that very few, if any, will actually come around after such a long time.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity there. Most marketers find there is always some sort of “tail” for response from long inactive subscribers. Sometimes it’s enough loose change that it adds up! One of our clients, a retailer, did the analysis and found that 15+-month lapsed buyers actually purchased a half million dollars worth of product in the past year (there are also about 5 million of them!). Another client’s “dead file” — nonresponsive for 13+ months after receiving two email messages a month for a year — earned a 2% purchase rate. This is admittedly small compared to the 15% purchase rate of other subscribers, but still meaningful on the balance sheet. Andrew’s file of non-responders definitely earned some small response. But not a lot and nowhere near the response rates of the rest of the file.

So what’s a marketer to do? Cut off the non-responders and possibly leave revenue sitting on the table? Or, continue to blast them in the hopes they will eventually buy – all the while depressing your sender reputation? Of course the answer is neither “a” nor “b” but a smarter option.

The key is to make sure that you are doing the analysis and balancing the deliverability and cost risks. Here are a few ideas for getting started:

  • Consider just picking up the highest value segments, the “quarters” perhaps, and leave the rest on the ground by cutting the records off after a win-back campaign.
  • Try to re-engage through other channels — when they log into the website or call customer service, through your sales team or via postal mail.
  • Match your non-responders to an Email Change of Address service (full disclosure: Return Path runs the largest) — many subscribers may regularly check an alternate address. Be sure to welcome these returning subscribers back with a custom campaign.

The ISPs, especially MSN/Hotmail and Gmail, are getting smarter about using consumer “votes” for separating senders whose email is welcome from those who keep mailing long after the subscriber has tuned the program out. So it’s no longer easy to keep your complaint rate down by maintaining a large denominator of subscribers who are not responding (or complaining). It’s painful but the smarter strategy is usually to just take these non-responders off the file.

But of course the best option of all is to be sure to engage with subscribers before they become lost to you. At least every quarter develop a win back campaign or an invite to visit the preference center and re-engage. This is the only way to prevent having the loose change become significant enough to cause real revenue pain.

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