Are Your Recipients Tired? Look No Further Than List Fatigue.

Ben Jenkins - 03.31.2009

If you are like most marketing communications professionals across the nonprofit space, you wear many hats and have limited time to analyze all aspects of your marketing campaigns.  You spend time analyzing the impact of your email campaigns – monitoring overall success rates, opens, clicks, actions taken and dollars raised.  You’ll even spend time trying to understand those emails that did not reach the intended recipient – how many hard failed and soft failed and what triggered the failure.

There’s no doubt these are all very important overall campaign metrics that help in developing a more engaged constituent over time but there is one area that is often overlooked. What about those constituents that have been inactive for some time?  List fatigue is a common problem that is often overlooked by email marketers because these metrics aren’t typically presented in the same way that the other more common metrics are often displayed.  You’ll need to do a bit of work to determine those recipients that have not opened or clicked for some time. If they haven’t opted-out and they haven’t reported your email as spam, there must be a reason why they still want to receive your messages.  Analyze the following to see if you can determine a strategy that may work to re-engage the non-responders.

  1. Develop a strategy for handling list fatigue.  What is your definition of an inactive user?  Is an inactive user defined the same regardless of the campaign or should you define different strategies for different subscribers?  What do you want to accomplish with these inactive users?  What is the threshold for inactivity?  What are your objectives and tactics associated with this process? How much time can you spend developing and executing this strategy?
    • Be mindful of your time, you are mining data and this will require time outside of the current campaigns you are managing.
    • Pay specific attention to those recipients that may be a part of more than one subscriber base or campaign.
  1. Evaluate any trends surrounding these recipients.  Are there specific reasons why they may not have opened or clicked on your emails in some time?  Have you been using the same subject line and headings?  Do you adhere to best practices (relevancy, image to text ratio, preferred frequency)?   Is seasonality of events and major initiatives a factor? If they used to open and click on your messages, are there things you used to do that have changed around the time they stopped opening your emails?
    • There are many factors that can contribute to list fatigue, your goal at this stage is to determine those underlying reasons why fatigue set in.
    • Use a small sample size for starters, its better to dive deep into a small number of recipients in the beginning to determine root cause rather than trying to generalize
    • Don’t get caught in the position where you delete inactive addresses without first reviewing your historical communication plan because you might inadvertently remove some individuals that only respond to a specific event or action.
    • This may also provide insight into your overall communications strategy as a whole.  You may find obvious ways to improve your strategy even if not related specifically to list fatigue.

If you follow this basic process, you should have a better understanding of the potential triggers that cause list fatigue within your specific organization.  If you can set aside a few hours, see what you can do to flesh this concept out.  You may find that cultivating inactive subscribers helps you to achieve your goals without spending as much effort and money on acquisition efforts. 

Feel free to share your results once you’ve had a chance to do the initial digging.  I’ll follow-up with another post in the next couple of weeks to help you fine tune how to turn your findings into an actionable re-engagement plan.

Photo credit: Will Lion


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