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The ultimate guide to building an effective winback series

The ultimate guide to building an effective winback series

A step-by-step guide to creating a winback email automation series that will effectively re-engage your inactive subscribers.

Cynthia Dam
July 23, 2024
4 min read

Your email list shows steady growth, subscribers are turning into customers, and your abandoned cart and browse abandonment emails are effectively driving more revenue. What’s next? It’s time to come up with a strategy to approach (and win back) the inactive portion of your list - a portion that grows every day.

According to Marketing Land, an average of over 66% of marketers lists are inactive. That’s a huge chunk of your list that isn’t opening or engaging with your emails. It’s easy to treat these inactive subscribers like everyone else on your email list, but continuing to blast them when they show no signs of engaging will damage your email deliverability.

The best thing to do? Create a winback email series that’s optimized to re-engage your inactives at exactly the right time, with exactly the right messaging. These inactive subscribers were interested in your brand once upon a time, so there’s a high chance you can pique their interest again with the right email content. Plus, it costs 5x more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one, making this a smart money move for your business. Let’s dive into this ultimate guide on creating an effective winback email series:

Step 1: Segment out your inactive subscribers

The first thing you’ll need to do is separate out inactives from your main email list. Hive automatically buckets your subscribers by engagement level, but if you’re on a different ESP you’ll need to create a segment to capture customers who haven’t opened or clicked an email in a while (e.g. subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked your last 10 emails). This will ensure you don’t continue including inactives in your main email blasts, and creates the segment you’ll build your winback email series for.

Step 2: Think - what do your customers care about?

Remember, the goal of a winback email series is to send emails designed specifically to appeal to subscribers and get them to re-engage with your brand. You’ll need to think about what types of content will best get them to open and click through your emails. This can vary for every brand, but think along the lines of:

  • Your brand values: what sets you apart from your competitors?
  • Discount codes: are your customers price-sensitive?
  • Exclusive content: do your customers respond well to first-access content?

You’ll be able to leverage the things your customers care about to form the steps of your winback email series. Which leads us into step 3.

Step 3: Plan out your winback email series

Once you’ve figured out what content will re-engage your inactives best, you can plan what your actual winback email series will look like. You’ll want to decide how many emails you want to include, the goal for each email, and the time delay between each one.

Here’s a general outline you can reference when planning your own, including examples of effective winback email subject lines:

Winback Email #1: Send after a subscriber doesn’t open or click your last 10 emails

Subject line: Was it us?
The first winback email in your series can be pretty generic. Typically, good copy and a link to your preference center can re-engage more inactives than you think. Your preference center should let subscribers toggle the types of emails they want to receive from you, and share information like their gender or date of birth so you can hyper-target your messaging for them.

Winback Email #2: Send 2 days after winback email #1

Subject line: Here’s 10% to show how much we miss you
If all else fails, a promo code usually does the trick. Most (if not all) customers love a discount. This may be the little extra push they need to visit your store again and complete a purchase.

Winback Email #3: Send one week after winback email #2

Subject line: Last chance - 20% off your entire order
Many winback email series leverage increasing promo codes to re-engage hard-to-get customers. Those who are won over by the earlier discount codes never know that they could’ve gotten better deals. Typically, the last email in a winback email series will include the highest promo code you’re willing to offer, as this is the last-chance attempt at re-engaging subscribers. If this email doesn’t work, it’s recommended to prune leftover inactive subscribers from your list and treat them as invalid. The chances of them engaging with any email you send after these enticing winback emails is extremely low, and will only hurt your deliverability.

Bonus Winback Email Idea: Tackle the Gmail promotions tab problem

Many ecommerce brands are faced with the new obstacle of the Gmail promotions tab. Marketing emails are generally automatically filtered into this tab by Gmail, making it harder to get visibility from your subscribers. The way around this? Ask your subscribers to move your email into their primary tab, which indicates to Gmail that they want your emails landing in their main inbox.

Saturday by Kate Spade does a great job of leveraging fun copy and a beautifully designed email to do exactly that. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask nicely.

Step 4: Set up your winback automations in your ESP

Now for the fun part - designing email templates and setting up email automations in your ESP! Remember, each of your winback emails must be optimized to re-engage your inactives. Everything from design to CTA placement to subject line matters.

Land’s End lists all the great things their inactives are missing out on, and includes a CTA to ‘stay together’ and ‘modify preferences’. Having a CTA above the fold is a must for your winback emails, as click-through guarantees that an inactive is re-engaged with your brand.

Step 5: Monitor your results and update your series!

Watch your winback email series over the first few weeks of setup to see how your subscribers are engaging, and what areas you can optimize. There could be a specific step in the series that outperforms the rest, you may want to increase or decrease timelines, or you may even find you want to change the timeframe of when a subscriber is deemed inactive. These are all unique to a brand, so be on the lookout and don’t be afraid to update your welcome series!

You're ready to win 'em back

That’s it - a step-by-step guide to creating a winback email series that will effectively re-engage your inactive subscribers. Want to update your entire email automation strategy?