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Power Up Your Email: Don’t Ignore The Ignorers


This article is part of our Power Up Your Email series — which shines a spotlight on the email marketing strategies and insights top brands are using to engage more customers, increase conversions, and drive growth and revenue.

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Have you ever noticed that when you know someone is interested in you, you become more interested in them? 

This phenomenon, known as reciprocal liking, is identified by social psychologists as a type of reciprocity where people tend to like other people who have expressed a liking for them. Essentially, if you have confirmation that someone is interested in you and what you have to say, you’re more likely to reciprocate that interest.

We see this happen all the time in email marketing. Your active customers are responsive to your marketing, which means they like you, your brand, and your message. In return, you begin to favor your active customers and become more and more vested in further engaging them. Meanwhile, the unengaged customers become rather boring and easy to ignore. 

Perhaps this explains why many email marketers put a disproportionate amount of their time, effort, and attention — i.e., interest — toward customers who actively open their emails vs. those who ignore their emails. 

The problem is that your inactive customers yield incredibly valuable insights about your email marketing strategy. What’s more, if you dig deeper, you can learn how to better engage them. Just because a customer is ignoring your emails doesn’t mean you should ignore them. 

If you want to increase customer engagement, improve deliverability, and drive growth and revenue, don’t ignore the ignorers. Read on to learn more.  

Being Inactive is Normal

Really, who opens every email?

We’re all consumers. We all have brands we like and frequently shop with. And we’ve all been on the receiving end of those brands’ respective email marketing campaigns.  

But unless you’re actively ready to buy, are you still opening every email that brand sends you? 

You might be, if they’re sending you the right content (more on this later). But for the most part, until you’re ready to make a purchase, you’re likely not going to open each sales-oriented email that comes your way. Instead, you’ll go inactive for a while. That doesn’t mean you hate that brand’s guts or never want to hear from them again for the rest of your life. 

The takeaway here is that being inactive is normal. Don’t expect customers to always be active with your emails. Your customer might be interested in your brand, but they’re just not opening an email today. 

Now, although being inactive is normal, if a customer has gone inactive because they’ve totally forgotten about you or have zero interest in your brand, that is a problem. So here’s where it helps to pay attention to those on your inactive list: Why are they inactive? Is it simply because they aren’t ready to buy? Or have you trained your inactive customers to continue ignoring your emails by sending them the wrong content?

Are you training customers to ignore your emails?

As a marketer, you set the tone for your relationship with your customer. All they have to go on is the content and messages you give them. In essence, you’re “teaching” them how they should feel about your brand based on what you deliver. 

If you give them personalized, high-value content, they learn to love your brand. But if you give them generic, irrelevant content (and often strictly sales-oriented), they learn to ignore your emails. If you think about it from the customer’s perspective, this makes sense — if every time you opened an email from a brand, it offered nothing unique or relevant to you, wouldn’t you eventually assume it was pointless to keep opening them?

Instead of teaching a subset of your customers to ignore your emails by sending them irrelevant and unwanted content, make sure you’re sending the right content to the right person, so they’ll always be happy to open your emails and continue their relationship with your brand. 

“When that single area of content is sales-focused … what it’s doing for those people who are not at the purchase phase of the buying lifecycle, it’s alienating [them]. But even worse, it’s actually teaching them to ignore your emails. If I receive an email every day and I am a brand-loyal customer, but I see that email content that I open on a Monday and it’s about a product for purchase, and on Tuesday, same content. Wednesday, same content. By Thursday, I’ve stopped opening those emails. The sales-focused content trains recipients who are not in the purchase lifecycle [to] ignore those emails.”  

Steve Henderson Emarsys

Steve Henderson

Head of Deliverability, Emarsys

The Right Content for the Right Person

Not every inactive customer is the same. The inactive portion of your mailing list contains two sets of people: 

  • Those who aren’t currently engaging but still want to be on the list 
  • Those who don’t want anything to do with your brand 

Inactives who want to be on your list need a different set of content because, although they might be interested in your brand, they’re not interested in buying today, so they’ll ignore any “today’s latest offers” subject lines. Consider what kind of content you could send that would be valuable and relevant to customers who are not in the buying stage of the lifecycle. 

Here are just a few examples of valuable emails that are not sales focused:

  • Product Care Instructions: For customers who previously purchased a product that requires special care, send a message with best practice for how to maintain and maximize the life of that item. 
  • Product Feedback: How was their most recent purchase? Let them know you’d love to hear from them and that their feedback is valuable. Customers love feeling like they’re part of the process. 
  • Upcoming Store Events: Not only does this keep the customer up-to-date on happenings in their area, but it’s a great way to entice a customer to visit your store.
  • Content Curation: One way to deliver value is by simply curating a collection of great content that your customer can consume. Pull together various relevant pieces of content like blogs and articles (from your site or elsewhere) that your customer would be interested in reading. For example, if you sell health and beauty products, send articles with styling tips or makeup tutorials.   

As far as that other set in your inactive list who are ignoring your emails… well, maybe they’ve never purchased, never visited the website, never opened or clicked an email, or even engaged with your brand for years. Quite likely, they don’t even want to be on your list. At a certain point, for the sake of your deliverability and other metrics, you’ll need to dive in and evaluate whether those inactives should stay or be removed. 

“But wait!” you say, being the optimistic marketer that you are, “I can win them back! All it takes is the right subject line and they’ll open my email!” Yet, the cold hard truth is that sometimes even the most perfectly crafted subject line in the world can’t re-engage an inactive customer, and that’s because…

Subject lines are NOT the main reason people open emails

Many believe that the number one reason why people open an email is the subject line. The truth is, the sender is the number one reason a customer opens an email. Your subject line, no matter how strong, is secondary.

Optimism is good, but don’t rely on the magic email subject line that’s going to convert that long-dormant, never-engaged customer. You’ve sent 300 emails to the same customer and they’ve never opened, but email number 301… that might be the one…right? Unfortunately, not very likely. 

If you’ve already trained your customer to ignore your emails, they’ve learned to think that “this brand has nothing for me — I will ignore all future emails from this brand.” That’s the danger of batch-and-blast, irrelevant content. Do it too long, too often, and you risk losing customers and never getting them back.

“Maybe contrary to belief, it’s not the subject line which is the primary driver that determines whether a recipient opens an email or not. It’s important, of course, but it’s only the second most-important, according to the [Data and Marketing Association] studies. The thing that’s most important is the brand recognition. When I see an email in my inbox, do I know the sender? Do I recognize that sender? Do I trust that sender? When I see that email in the inbox from a sender that I trust, have I been trained to open that email? Or have I been trained to not open that email? So it’s the brand recognition, both positively and negatively, that is the primary determinant of whether a recipient opens the email or not.”


Steve Henderson

Head of Deliverability, Emarsys

Final Thoughts

Nothing is more exciting than knowing the hard work you’ve put into your creative email content has paid off. Your active customer list serves as a confirmation of that. So it’s understandable that you want to remain focused on those highly engaged customers and continue converting them into sales opportunities. 

But if you keep a close eye on your inactive customers, you stand to learn a great deal about your marketing. 

As you continue to refine and optimize your email marketing, don’t ignore the ignorers. Take the time to learn about your inactive customers and ask yourself why they are ignoring your emails. It’s likely that your strategy is to blame. Are you sending customers the wrong content? Are they receiving too many irrelevant, generic emails? Should you adjust the frequency?

Having an omnichannel customer engagement platform that connects data from all your channels allows you to go from sending uninspired batch-and-blast emails to sending highly relevant 1:1 messages to customers in real time. As a result, you can ensure that all of your customers receive the right content at the right moment. With the right technology and personalized email marketing strategy in place, those long-standing email ignorers can be turned into your biggest email fans. 

  • For more powerful insights to power up your email, be sure to check out our resource hub, which is full of videos, articles, real success stories, and more — all designed to bolster your email marketing strategy and improve email deliverability.

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Special thanks to our friends at Emarsys for their insights on this topic.
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