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Dealing With the Dead Weights - 3/15/2011 -

Is it better to cut "never-openers” from your e-mail marketing list or keep them on to boost distribution numbers?

By Jeffrey Lee

Association members who never open e-mail newsletters can be a frustrating member segment. They also present a challenge for association e-mail marketers. Is it better to cut those dead-weight members from the e-mail list, and thus boost the newsletter’s open rate? Or is it better to leave them on, keeping the total audience figure for the newsletter higher despite their lack of activity?

The question, posed by Michael Johnson, manager of media marketing and circulation at the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), generated a number of ideas at the E-mail Marketing session at the Association Media & Publishing Roundtable Round-Up, Jan. 28 in Alexandria, Va.

While associations will eventually want to cut those ‘never-openers’ from their e-mail list, they should first try to re-engage them, suggested Jeanette Arrighi, marketing strategy manager for the e-mail marketing service provider Informz.

Arrighi suggested starting that re-engagement campaign with an e-mail to the list of never-openers, telling them that their e-weekly is expiring soon and that they must respond to keep their subscription. For those who don’t respond to the reminder, follow up with a good, old-fashioned postcard asking members to check a box if they still want to receive the e-weekly. A full campaign might consist of three e-mails and two postcards.

If, after all those reminders the never-openers remain unengaged with all e-mail communications, it’s best to cut their addresses from the e-mail list. The reason, Arrighi said, is that e-mail marketers can tell sponsors how engaged their readers are based on clicks on the e-mail newsletters. A higher rate of clicks indicates a more actively engaged readership. Additionally, continuing to e-mail those who are unengaged with your communications can cause e-mail deliverability issues.

Database Communication

 The E-mail Marketing Roundtable also discussed the benefits of using an e-mail system that works with an association's membership database. One participant said a challenge their organization faces is coordinating e-mails sent to its membership. With many departments and hundreds of thousands of members, the association has occasionally sent some members as many as seven e-mails in one day. Although members can opt-out of e-mails if they feel they receive too many, it's best to be proactive with this part of member relations, the participant said. A good e-mail subscription management program will allow members to easily select which e-mails they want to receive and see how often they can expect to get various e-mails.

Arrighi noted that one of the benefits of an e-mail system that communicates with a membership database is that it can provide oversight of e-mails from different departments, as well as the capability to send e-mails to targeted member segments. Using if/then statements, a health organization could use e-mails for nurses rather than physicians, for instance, if it was promoting a course intended only for nurses. The tool can help associations avoid overburdening member segments with e-mails that don’t apply to them.

Going Mobile

Participants in the roundtable discussed some of the best practices for making e-mail newsletters friendly for mobile devices. Don’t use full articles in the newsletter, Arrighi suggested. Instead, associations should use two or three lines to introduce the article and then include a link so that readers don’t have to continuously scroll to get to the next article. The goal, she said, is not to make readers use too much effort to get to the newsletter’s content.

Some other quick tips for mobile-friendly newsletters:

  • Newsletters should be only one column and no wider than 600-650 pixels to render well on mobile screens;
  • Fonts should be larger than 12 pixels; and
  • Subject lines should be less than 30 characters.

Jeffrey Lee is manager of communications for the National Apartment Association and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee. Association Media & Publishing thanks Jeffrey for volunteering to cover this event for our members who were unable to attend. 


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