Winback for the Win: Tips for Successful and Safe Re-Engagement

As previously enthusiastic subscribers grow dusty and unengaged, marketers will generally abide by one of two practices: keep the subscriber indefinitely or cut them from the list entirely. In a recent blog post—Saying Goodbye to Increase Your ROIthe importance of cutting unengaged subscribers is evaluated in depth. The crucial (yet potentially painful) takeaway is that in order to ensure best in class deliverability for your engaged subscribers, you have to learn to say goodbye to those that have slipped away. While cutting your unengaged subscribers may be necessary to keep your inbox placement and IP reputation strong, there is one final life preserver you can throw these addresses: the winback campaign

While often underutilized, sending your subscribers a winback message (or series) before removing them entirely is a great way to facilitate one final opportunity to convert. If you are able to pique your subscriber’s interest and entice them to open, click, or better yet purchase—you will be saving these subscribers from transitioning to the dreaded inactive file. Doing so will increase the lifetime value of that individual subscriber, and will soften the blow of removing those other addresses that just couldn’t be saved. After all, what reasons do you have not to leverage this juicy opportunity to target your subscribers one final time? If you do so creatively and carefully, sending a winback campaign comes with minimal risk and the potential for a high return on investment.

When it comes to winback campaigns, what you want to avoid at all costs is your prized message getting lost in your subscriber’s inbox. Since these subscribers have already shown disinterest in your regular promotional offers, you do not want this campaign to blend in, you want it to stick out like a sore thumb. When putting together the content for your winback campaign, consider these three items to maximize the success of your campaign:

  • Subject line: Do you follow a common trend with your subject lines? If so, consider adopting a new approach for your winback. Taking the breakup angle with phrases such as “We Miss You” can be compelling and has proven to work for certain brands ( saw a 131.2 percent read rate lift with the subject line “You’ve Been Missed: Enjoy This Special Offer!”), however you’ll want to make sure that whatever subject line you use still resonates with your brand image. Use Return Path’s Subject Line Optimizer to explore the successes of other domains and test out your own ideas.
  • Value proposition: In addition to a killer subject line, you’ll want to emphasize all the ways your program provides value to your subscribers. Does it give them early access to sale events, tips, and tricks, or maybe just regular and reliable account updates? Don’t be shy—show off your program and prove to them that you are worth the space in their inbox.
  • Offer: A compelling offer has the potential to convert the biggest curmudgeon of a subscriber to a valuable prospect or buyer. If you are using one, make your winback offer truly difficult to pass up by going above and beyond your typical sale offers. Our study on subject lines found that $ off incentives perform better than % off. Test out multiple offers to find what works best with your individual subscribers. In addition to monitoring opens and clicks in your test group, use Return Path to help monitor crucial deliverability metrics such as inbox placement for each test.

Looking for creative inspiration? The three brands below do a fantastic job of making their winback campaign compelling, both with and without an offer:

Paul Mitchell – “We Hate Goodbyes.”
Paul Mitchell keeps their subject line short and to the point with this example. While they do not employ an explicit offer in their campaign, they successfully re-iterate the benefits of their program in a unique way as spoken through the voice of the subscriber. Coupled with a clever image and a clear call to action—this is a A+ example of a winback campaign.

Saks Fifth Avenue – “Let’s Stay Together.”
Saks Fifth Avenue is best in class when it comes to showcasing the value of their brand. While not going so far as to overwhelm, they clearly outline the exact reasons that subscribers would want to be a part of their email program. Their subject line clearly indicates the purpose of the message, and expresses a heartfelt desire to maintain the relationship. Bonus: they even use a model in their creative that looks as though she is feeling sad!

Skillshare – “Come See What’s New!”
Similar to Saks Fifth Avenue, what really stands out about this email is the thorough explanation of subscriber benefits. Skillshare both re-iterates the features of their (premium) program, as well as gives subscribers a taste of what they may have been missing out on. Their subject line relies on the subscriber’s curiosity to open the message, an alternate tactic to relying on emotion. Additionally, Skillshare provides a compelling ($) offer to encourage subscribers to renew their premium subscription.

Now, once you have created a campaign you are sure will have your subscribers hooked, you’ll want to make sure you are closely and consistently monitoring your winback results. After all, no matter how good your winback campaign is, it will have no impact if it is not reaching your subscriber’s inbox. Leveraging both Return Path and your Email Service Provider will provide you with the most complete data picture needed to continually gauge whether you are hitting the mark. 

In addition to monitoring engagement metrics such as opens, clicks, and conversions, there are several key deliverability metrics that you should keep a close eye on:

  • Inbox placement rate. Not the same as the number of emails delivered, leveraging Return Path’s Inbox Monitor will help you measure what inbox placement your winback campaign is seeing. This will ensure you are giving your campaign the highest probability of success.
  • IP address reputation. Keeping a close eye on your IP Reputation during any winback campaign can help to proactively identify any metrics that could damage your overall program, especially if you only send from one IP address. In particular, watch out for any spikes in unknown users, spam traps, and complaintsYou can monitor your reputation using Reputation Monitor within the Return Path Platform, or via

Ultimately, you’ll want to use these guidelines to ensure your winback campaign itself is successful, while also verifying that the rest of your mail remains strong. Already a Return Path client? Talk to your Account Manager or leverage our robust Help Center to learn more about how to get a winback campaign going for your program. Not yet a client? Request a demo today!


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