Challenge: Get Value Out of Dormant Names

One of the most frustrating challenges for people who run email lists for long enough is what to do with list members who stop opening and clicking. After all, these members are all people who opted in at some point. Did they get bored with the content we send them? Offended?

Typical efforts to win back dormant names focus on email list programming. What if we send them just our highest-performing message each month? What if we send them a message letting them know we’ll take them off our list if they don’t open? The problem with these typical efforts is a handful of people might respond, but the numbers are never very good.

It made us wonder, are these inactive people even really there? We worked with our client CREDO Action to find an answer — and ended up finding an approach to reactivation that really works.

Method: Don’t Just Reactivate, Resubscribe

Instead of just emailing dormant names on the list, we helped CREDO target Facebook ads to list members that had previously been highly active but had become dormant over time.

The matching ad technology is standard in the industry these days: upload a list of supporters with whatever information you have about them (name, email address, phone number, physical address, etc.), and Facebook will use that information to match your supporters to its user profiles. Then you can pay Facebook to run ads directly targeting the people who you uploaded. The match rate is never 100%, but if you need to target specific individuals (not just broad demographics), it’s an invaluable tool.

In the past, we’ve tried targeting brand-focused ads at dormant names with this technology, based on the hypothesis that seeing CREDO’s name in their inbox and their Facebook feed one after the other would make dormant subscribers more likely to engage in the inbox. Those past efforts weren’t especially successful, so this time we used standard acquisition ads — sign the petition, join the cause, etc. The same type of creative you might use to acquire brand new names.

The response from these resubscription ads was terrific, but the most interesting finding was the way people resubscribed.

Results: “New” Names, Great Performance

We may have asked the question, “Are dormant names really there?” out of frustration, but the answer more than justified the skepticism: 55% of the people who signed up joined with an email address that was not in the database. In other words, no, they were not really there.

Somewhere along the line, whether it was because they changed jobs or jumped from using Yahoo! Mail to Gmail or something else, a majority of these inactive folks had clearly stopped using the email address CREDO had on file and were now using a different address entirely.


“New to List” rate Among
Resubscribed List Members

But as noted, the matching technology isn’t perfect. Could we have accidentally targeted people who were not, in fact, already on the list? It’s certainly possible — but you would expect to see pretty lousy performance metrics from a mis-targeted sample of random Facebook users. And instead we saw great performance, starting with the cost per acquisition.


The ads targeting dormant list members had a cost per resubscription just a hair over 40% of the cost of a brand new subscriber through CREDO’s regular acquisition ads. We would expect people who already have a relationship with CREDO to be more inclined to join than random users, and that’s what we saw for the resubscription ads. But we would also expect people with an existing relationship to perform better on the list — and we saw that too.

2nd Action Rate.png
Dollars per 2nd Action.png

CREDO measures downstream performance of new members of its email list in part by how many of those new members take a second action, i.e. an action in addition to the one they took when they joined. And the resubscribed names took about 2.5x more second actions than the brand new names, and they did it at a lower cost. Overall, the cost per second action was 6x higher for new names than resubscribed names.

So the resubscription ads do seem to have reached people already on the email list — but people who, in most cases, could only have been reached through a method such as this. Our recommendation to anyone looking to reengage dormant names on their email list is to go ahead and continue sending out top-performing content or ‘last chance’ messages, if you have the time and resources. But there will be some portion of your list you won’t be able to reach that way, and reaching those people through Facebook ads could well be worth a share of your acquisition budget.