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The best subject lines to use for inactive subscribers?

Key features and three ideas for effective winback subject lines

Last week I was presenting at the DMA Email Customer Lifecycle Win-back breakfast seminar and I also enjoyed the related discussion on Smart Insights around Dela Quist's post on how to treat inactive email subscribers. I wrote up the seminar on the Email Vision blog, but here I thought it may interesting for Smart Insights readers to see a summary, since it relates to the inactives issue we were discussing.

What makes for an effective winback subject line?

In a moment, I'll share examples from the seminar, but first it's worth thinking through the key features to make these subject lines. The rules are different for inactives. Incentive and benefit based subject lines maybe just right for active customers. However the tone and voice must reflect the current state of relationship to the person you are communicating. So for disengaged customers, a different type of subject line is needed. People are people regardless of exactly what they are buying. How they think and react is a human trait and not determined by the brand.

I think good principles to follow are:

  • They are different to the subject line of any normal marketing message.
  • They are simple and honest
  • They should have a conversational style
  • They aren't trying to sell anything
  • Questions can work well

Three ideas for effective subject lines for inactives

In the seminar, three companies presented the results of when they ran subject line split tests to find a best performing choice. The tests were more than A/B tests, but included multiple treatment subject lines were included in the tests. The three winning subject lines for the three companies were:

  • Was it something we said?
  • Are we still welcome in your inbox?
  • Is this goodbye?

These three winning subject lines are the result of totally independent tests, from different companies with different audiences.

Use of free, win or save type incentives in the subject line were also tested and found to decrease the response to the win-back. Including an incentive as a secondary message within the email body was found in some cases to work.

Given the three subject lines were created independently of each other it's surprising how similar they are!

If you've worked on testing this, it would be interesting to know the subject lines that work for you.

By Tim Watson

Tim Watson, from consultancy Zettasphere, is the Smart Insights expert commentator on email marketing. He is an independent email marketing consultant providing strategic guidance, to deliver improved campaign results. A member of the DMA Email Council and chair of the DMA Email Best Practice hub. He actively promotes email and frequently speaks on the subject and how to improve use of the channel. Connect with Tim via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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