How do you revive a dormant email list?

You can have a clean email list - even if it has been neglected and gone cold.

The Situation

The client, a consultant, speaker, and author, had allowed his list of email contacts to grow dormant over many years. He’d only sent out a handful of email newsletters and it had been quite some time since the last release. He wanted to re-engage with his audience, but desperately needed a clean email list. 

Some of the contacts on the list were outdated by 15 years or more. Some were deceased. Others had long since moved to new employment or retired and their professional email addresses were no longer valid.

The list was not segmented, so he could not be certain if a particular contact was interested in his consulting services, his keynote addresses, or both. In addition, his personal contacts were scattered throughout and there was no easy way to tell them apart other than manually reviewing thousands of records, one-by-one.

Goals

Our client wanted to fill his pipeline with speaking engagements and consulting gigs.

The primary goal of the project was to re-engage with the list and bring them up-to-date with recent developments and plans for the new year. Additionally, we hoped to categorize the list into segments and get some “in their own words” market feedback.

Ideally, we’d also learn who his base of friends and fans were. With that group identified, we could educate them about his current offerings so they could refer him for potential new business.

Once completed, this work would establish a foundation for generating referrals and leads for our client’s consulting projects and speaking engagements…

… a validated and clean email list.

Challenges

There were some emotional hurdles to overcome. The client was embarrassed by his neglect of the email list and he felt fearful about making contact. He was “concerned about the comments we may get,” or worse, “that we won’t get any at all.”

He was also anxious that people would be offended by receiving a “form letter” from him. He felt it would be interpreted as cold and impersonal compared to his very hands-on, sociable, and engaged manner.

Once we discussed how the email messages could be crafted to sound like his “voice” and, where possible, be personalized with the recipient’s name he was still a bit anxious, but felt comfortable enough to move forward with the project.

Strategy

We established a 3 stage approach to the project:

Stage 1: Prune — To avoid having lots of emails bounce and damage our client’s reputation with email service platform, Drip, we would need to prune the list of inactive, inaccurate, and undeliverable emails before we sent anything. We wanted to be sure that our client’s first experience with an email automation platform would not be marred by his account being suspended or canceled for receiving a high percentage of undeliverable and bounced-back emails.

Stage 2: Segment — Since the list was compiled over many years and from multiple sources, it wouldn’t be fully useful until we could group recipients according to the interests and offerings that were most relevant to them. In order to organize the list into meaningful segments, we’d need to provide a way for the recipients to indicate whether they were interested in consulting, keynote addresses, or just a friend/fan.

Stage 3: Gather Feedback— To learn how to best talk about and promote our client’s services, we would ask recipients to provide feedback about their biggest concerns or challenges related to their selected area(s) of interest. This information would also be useful for tweaking existing service offerings and planning new ones.

As with any new endeavor, it can be unsettling when you don’t know what to expect. To help with this, we researched publications of industry benchmarks for categories that would be closely related to what our client offered. This would provide a benchmark against which our client could set his expectations for the outcome of our work on his email list.

To ground expectations even more, we reminded our client that the industry averages were likely based on email lists that were more current and actively engaged than the list we were working with. As such, if our results were slightly below the industry average, we could probably still feel good about them.

The Process
Stage 1:  Preparing the List

We gathered contact information from our client’s Outlook Contacts, defunct MailChimp newsletter list, Zoho Campaigns, and LinkedIn connections. There were also contacts on stacks of business cards, in paper notes, and in his history of sent and received emails in Outlook that hadn’t been saved into Contacts – but we decided to save those for a later project due to the additional time it would take to do data entry and filter out non-relevant addresses.

Once we had the initial list compiled (approximately 6,000 records), we checked for duplicate entries and consolidated. This trimmed the list down to approximately 3,200 records.

Email Address Verification with Xverify

Next, we uploaded the list to an email verification service. For this project we used xverify.com and they charged $0.01 per email address to do the verification.

The process was simple. After registering for an Xverify account and providing credit card information, we uploaded the email list in .csv format. As long as one column of the file has a column heading of “Email” and contains email addresses, Xverify will process the data and return results in a downloadable .csv file with a status code appended for each email address. For our list of 3,200 emails, the process was complete within a few minutes.

Xverify provides 9 status codes:

  • 1
    Valid:  The email address exists.
  • 2
    Invalid:  The email does not exist.
  • 3
    Catch All (Potential to Bounce):  These emails are on a Catch All server and could bounce if mailed to. You would have to mail to these with caution if you decided to.
  • 4
    Potential Bounce:  The email address and server are showing signs the email could bounce if mailed to.
  • 5
    High Risk:  Emails that could severely hurt your sending reputation if mailed to.
  • 6
    Disposable:  Email addresses that are meant to be used for a very short period of time and then “disposed of”.  Will never reach the recipient.
  • 7
    Complainer:  Users who mark email’s as “Spam” at a high rate.
  • 8
    Fraud:  The email has been linked to online fraud, chargebacks, or other questionable activity.
  • 9
    Unknown:  Xverify held the verification connection with the server for 30 seconds and it did not respond.

For this project, Xverify reported 1,779 email addresses as “Valid” out of the 3,200 that we submitted for verification. We decided not to use emails that had any of the other status codes.

After we'd completed the verification process, we realized that we had received “unsubscribe” requests from 8 contacts in Zoho Campaigns. Once those were removed, we were down to 1,771 contacts in our newly cleaned-up list which was now ready to be uploaded to our email automation platform of choice.

Stage 2:  Segmentation

Segmenting the Email List with Tags in Drip
For this project, we used the Drip email automation platform which is a highly flexible way to manage email subscribers with Tags.

Our client does speaking engagements as well as individual consulting and group training workshops. However, there’s very little crossover between the speaking and the consulting audiences. Most people on his list have interacted with him in one capacity or the other, but not both.

We needed a way to divide the list so that future communications could be targeted to the correct audience and therefore be more relevant.

Also, it would help future marketing efforts if we could identify people who believe in the work our client is doing, but may not be prospective clients themselves. This segment would include both personal friends and family whose email addresses our client would recognize — as well as people he wouldn’t remember meeting or may have never met, but who are fans of his work.

To accomplish this, we decided to create a short email that would acknowledge the lack of correspondence and include a simple call-to-action.

Here’s what it looked like:

We wanted to be strategic about 5 key areas of the email:

  • 1
    Personalization
  • 2
    Subject Line
  • 3
    Content
  • 4
    Interaction
  • 5
    Segmentation

Personalization — If an email address on the list had a first name associated with it, we wanted to incorporate that into the message. In hindsight, using the first name in *both* the subject line and the first line of the message body was overkill. One or the other probably would have been sufficient. For those email addresses where we didn’t know the first name, the subject line and first line of the message would automatically format to remove unnecessary punctuation and spacing.

Subject Line — In hopes of increasing the likelihood that a recipient would open the email, we chose a subject line that specifically addressed the lack of communication head-on: “I’ve been out of touch….” Also, to make the email more human, we left the word “I’ve” uncapitalized as you might do if you were in a rush to send a quick email and forgot to proofread before hitting send. we hypothesized that this may look less “form letter”-ish and seem more likely to be a personal email from our client.

Content — Rather than use this email to provide a full update on our client’s latest activities and work, we chose to focus instead on the purpose of the email: cleaning-up the email list. This acknowledged the lack of communication and hinted at some new things to come in the near future. Short, sweet and hopefully making the recipient curious to know more about what our client has planned for the coming year.

Interaction — Now that the recipient understands why they’ve received the email, it’s time to ask them to take action. Channeling our client’s affable personality, we come right out and ask if they’d do a quick favor and click a link that best indicates their interest in our client. To draw attention to it, we put “May I ask a favor?” on its own line.

Segmentation — Finally, we provided 4 separate links to segment the responses. One for each of his speaking and consulting offerings, one for his friends and fans, and one for people who weren’t sure who this message was from: “Sorry — I don’t recognize you, Chris”.

Stage 3:  Gather Feedback

As soon as the recipient clicks one of the email links, their subscriber profile within Drip’s email automation platform gets tagged to indicate they selected that particular interest. This means our list is segmented as soon as each click occurs.

And, if an email recipient clicks more than one link, that’s great – they’ll receive a tag for each interest category they click – allowing people to be in more than one segment at the same time.

But, we didn’t stop there…

Since clicking the link would take the email recipient somewhere, we used that opportunity to solicit additional, targeted feedback from the recipients.

Each of the email links pointed to its own landing page on our client’s website. we made sure to match the page headline to the text of the email link the recipient clicked so visitors would have confirmation that they landed in the correct place.

To keep the visitor focused, the page included our client’s website brand colors and imagery, but did not include any of the normal website navigation menus or links.

Echoing the text from the email, the landing page begins by thanking the visitor for helping to clean up our client’s email list.

For the “Consulting about topic X” and “Keynote Addresses about X” pages, the visitor was then asked to provide feedback about their biggest challenge or concern related to the interest they clicked on.

Below is an example of the “Consulting about topic X” landing page:

For the “No specific interest — I’m a friend/fan of yours” landing page, the visitor received a special message of appreciation for their support and was encouraged to share any feedback, suggestions, or questions they had regarding our client’s upcoming plans and projects for 2018:

For the “Sorry — I don’t recognize you, Chris” landing page, we provided a brief biography of our client’s professional background and an overview of his speaking and consulting offerings. At the bottom of the page, the visitor was given a choice to unsubscribe or to remain on the email list. If they chose to remain on the list, they were then asked to indicate their primary interest and invited to share any feedback or questions:

Results

To establish a benchmark for expectations, we looked at the Average Industry Rates published by Constant Contact.

Realizing that the age and inactivity of our list was not likely to compare favorably with the more active lists tracked by Constant Contact for their reporting, we were prepared to be pleased if our numbers came even close to this benchmark.

One week after sending the campaign, our results exceeded expectations:

Even more encouraging, 246 recipients (14% of our entire list) provided feedback via the forms on the landing pages. That result equals the professional services industry average of 14% just for email opens…

Pretty nice, huh?

As it turned out, our client had a strong, engaged base of friends, fans, and former clients buried in his dormant email list. Three of these asked to be contacted about potential engagements, while several others specifically asked how they could help refer him to new clients.

Many provided in-depth responses and all kinds of encouragement which is always a big boost for a business owner to receive. Their helpful comments and insightful questions will serve to guide future content and service offerings. Not only that, but it will help optimize our approach to marketing.

Retrospective

While we are proud of the results of this campaign, we know that the email automation work is only part of the picture. We had the privilege of working with a client who had established a strong connection with his audience and is well liked. This had a big impact on the outcome.

Next Steps

Though the results above are from a week after the campaign was launched, there is still a slow trickle of responses coming in at the pace of 1 or 2 every couple days. There remain more than 800 recipients who have not opened the email.

Resending the email with a different subject line to everyone on the list who has not yet opened it (and repeating that process 2 or 3 times) is a way to get as much engagement from the list as possible.

Would you like to do something similar?

If you have a list of email subscribers that’s been neglected or gone dormant, tell us about it.

Just hit the red "Schedule Call" button in the blue colored section below, or, scroll down and fill out the contact form and send us a message.

We'd love to help.