Daily Delivery – Win-Back Email Subscribers

Daily Delivery – Win-Back Email Subscribers

Email Marketing: CNET win-back campaign sees 8% subscriber re-engagment

By Courtney Eckerle @MarketingSherpa 1/22/13


“Win-back is sort of an ongoing strategy for us. … The way I think of win-back is that it’s an ongoing effort, not just something you do in tandem with a list cleanse,” said Diana Primeau, Director of Member Services, CNET.

“As painful as it is, we do it,” she said about removing the names, because, “what if they are not engaging with us, and they haven’t engaged with us within whatever that period of time we determine? We’ve lost them, and so there is no point in continuing with some of the emails. It just affects the health of your list.”

When Primeau took her position three years ago, list hygiene, among the implementation of other best practices, “became a regular part of [CNET's] due diligence, for keeping the business healthy.”


“Throughout the year, we reach out to our inactive user base to re-engage them with a compelling offer of some kind,” said Primeau. “Then, when we are ready for the list cleanse, we let them know if they do not engage, we will remove them.”

CNET has 13 different editorial newsletters, ranging from daily to once a week. Because people subscribe to specific topics, “they are very relevant to the user, subject-wise,” said Primeau.

The company also has three deal-based newsletters, one of which goes out once a day, and the other two send twice a week. All subscribers must be registered on the website to receive the newsletter, which allows Primeau to gain more information and value out of each subscriber.

In this campaign, CNET sent out three emails. The first was a highly valuable and compelling sweepstakes offer to win back its inactive users.

Then began a list cleanse in tandem with the win-back, informing those who remained inactive that if they did not engage, they would be removed from the list.

“Knocking people off of an email list who don’t resubscribe is a difficult step, but an extremely necessary one for overall list health,” Primeau added.

Step #1. Segment the list for testing

Primeau said CNET usually segments names by encouraging self-segmenting, where subscribers go to the subscription center and choose their preferences, as well as by behavioral segmenting, where they are segmented based on the criteria of activity or inactivity.

For this campaign, CNET’s criteria was behavioral segmenting into active and inactive names.

“We know this pool of people has been inactive, say 60 to 120 days. This pool of people has been active 120 to X amount of days. And we look at the size of those pools before we actually start the campaign,” said Primeau.

Throughout the year, while sending its regular communications, CNET will segment its list this way for testing, according to Primeau.

“[Inactive names] wouldn’t necessarily get any special treatment,” said Primeau. “They might get special subject lines depending on how they tested out. … It’s a very passive way of doing it, but really focusing on those inactives to see if we can re-engage people.”

This campaign identified inactive users as people who had not opened an email in 120 days for the sweepstakes offer. For the first list-cleansing email, inactive users were identified who had not opened an email in 180 days. The next list-cleansing email was sent to people who did not engage with the first.

Step #2. Test email subject lines and messaging

Primeau said testing for the emails that comprised the win-back and list-cleansing campaigns covered subject lines as well as some of the messaging, adding that CNET’s testing model is “a hybrid between the two of these … reaching a sweet spot.”


CNET did subject line testing for both the win-back and the list-cleansing emails, but didn’t always go with the subject line that had the greatest open percentage.

“With this campaign, we did subject line testing, but we also did, of the people who opened, which subject line also gives us better engagement,” said Primeau.

The team always looked at this element, she explained, because although the open rate might be lower, sometimes choosing subject lines from emails with higher clickthrough rates proved to be slightly more relevant, and saw greater engagement.

“Like us on Facebook” campaign

Primeau gives the example of a previous campaign when CNET put engagement over a higher open rate out of two subject lines tested. The send intended to reach out to CNET email subscribers to join its social networks.

At the time, CNET “had not done much to reach out to our newsletter customers to engage with us socially, other than have social icons in our footer,” she said.

    • Subject line #1: “Let’s be friends”

      Highest open rate with an increase over the other subject line of 7.59%

  • Subject line #2: “Join our social network”

    Highest clickthrough rate with an increase over the first subject line of 36.41%

“It is all about transparency, and the relevance [of the subject line] is sort of cute and makes people curious,” she said. Even if a subscriber opened the email based on the subject line, once they found the content wasn’t relevant to them, they wouldn’t click through to the site.

“By providing relevant content and subject line, we received higher engagement overall,” she added.

Engagement tactics

Primeau said her team is interested in where people do, and don’t, engage in the newsletters, as well as areas they can apply engagement tactics. She listed some engagement tactics her team tries to bring into each campaign:

    • Always provide relevant content, which means content that is “relevant to the users, not something that we perceive as relevant. We need to step into the users’ shoes,” she said.
    • Join CNET’s social networks
    • Ability to join and subscribe from Facebook, Yahoo! and Google
    • Behavioral targeting
    • Modern design and adaptive design of newsletters, so no matter what device a user views on they will have a great experience
    • Review content and process to make sure it is relevant and aligned with the site
  • Sweepstakes

CNET’s top goal is to drive user engagement and clicks back to the site. That way, more can be learned about users by tracking their site activity, and email subscribers are also exposed to CNET’s partners and advertisers.

“We take our customers and we actually look [to] see what kind of site activity we are getting from them post win-back, what type of newsletter activity we are getting post win-back,” she said. (continue @MarketingSherpa)


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