Awaken your zombie subscribers: How to win back customers

Caroline Burk

Updated: Oct 02, 2023 · 8 min read

Woman smiling with a coffee and phone

What’s scarier than vampires, ghosts and running out of candy for trick-or-treaters? Your zombie subscribers.

Fortunately, there’s a way for you to bring those zombies back to life so they can start engaging with your business again. We won’t leave you in the dark — in this article, you’ll learn:

  • Who can be considered a zombie subscriber
  • The possible reasons why someone has turned into a zombie
  • Ideas for how to win back inactive customers and re-engage these contacts

Let’s dive in so you and your team can break the curse for your business.

What are zombie subscribers?

“Zombie subscriber” refers to an inactive email contact. These are people on your subscriber list who haven’t opened or clicked on your emails in a long time. Inactive subscribers can have detrimental effects on your email efforts, and they can even keep active contacts from receiving your campaigns. That’s why it’s important to either re-engage them or remove them from your database.

Some negative impacts of zombie subscribers include:

  • Increased cost. The bigger your contact list, the more money you usually have to pay your email service provider. Why pay extra for subscribers who aren’t even opening your emails?
  • Lower deliverability. If your contact list is bogged down by too many inactive subscribers, you will rank lower in people’s inboxes. Eventually, this means you could end up in spam folders, including those of your active contacts.
  • Data issues. When sending email campaigns, data matters. More specifically, data from engaged subscribers matters. Whether you send a great email campaign or not, your inactive contacts won’t open it and your metrics will reflect that. If you want to get accurate data about people who are actually engaging with your emails, you have to deal with some zombies first.

The process for identifying inactive subscribers will depend on your business and your specific email strategy, but a general rule of thumb is to consider someone inactive if they haven’t opened any of your emails in the past six months. You should also pay attention to click-through rates. If someone hasn’t clicked any content in your emails in six months or more, they could be considered inactive too.

All of this may sound scary, but there are ways to re-engage your list’s zombies and turn them into active, engaged subscribers who look forward to receiving communications from you. However, before we get to how to win back inactive customers and prospects, we have to acknowledge that not all zombies are worth saving.

Which zombies are worth fighting for?

Some zombies were simply destined to be that way. Certain people may have signed up for your emails with no intention of engaging. These contacts are not worth keeping.

If someone has never opened one of your emails and has never purchased from you, the best course of action is to prune them from your contact list. These subscribers are more ghosts than they are zombies, so there’s no bringing them back, and they aren’t worth the space they're taking up in your database.

How to win inactive subscribers back

The positive thing about inactive subscribers is that you can regain their attention and win them back. With a shift in strategy and some re-engagement email campaigns, you can awaken these zombies and convert them into customers.

Refine your strategy

Before you start designing re-engagement campaigns, it’s smart to tackle the low-hanging fruit first. In this case, we’re talking about taking a good look at your email strategy. To get started, you should look at two factors:

How did your zombie subscribers initially sign up for emails?

When you identify which of your contacts are zombie subscribers, go back and look at their opt-in details. As you do, you can uncover any possible trends, which can inform how you tweak your email strategy.

For example, maybe most of your current zombies signed up for emails through a misleading lead magnet that wasn’t aligned with your business or what you’d be delivering to their inbox. It’s possible that people stopped opening your campaigns after they realized you’re no longer sending them what they thought they signed up for. Insight like this will tell you which assets, such as lead magnets, you need to correct.

How your sending habits might be creating zombies

There’s a reason why a contact turned into a zombie subscriber, and it might just be because of your sender habits. Ask yourself the following two questions to identify areas for improvement:

  • Am I segmenting my audience based on their preferences? If you’re sending every single email to every person on your list, this could be the reason for the inactivity you’re seeing. Make sure you’re segmenting contacts based on what you know they want to see, then send them that content. This alone could re-engage them and save them from their zombie status.
  • Am I clear about what people can expect from my emails? When someone signs up to receive emails from you, they should know what they’re getting. If they don’t, or if you’re not adhering to what you told them, they might just ignore you and become inactive. Make sure you’re abundantly clear about what content they’ll get and how often they’ll hear from you.
  • Can people easily unsubscribe if they want to? Giving people a way out of receiving emails is crucial. It keeps them from becoming zombies and hurting your deliverability rate. You don’t want to end up in the spam folder, so make sure every email you send has an unsubscribe option at the bottom.

Re-engagement ideas

After evaluating your own email strategy, it’s time to partner those improvements with re-engagement campaigns. Explore the ideas below to get inspiration on how to win back customers and leads who have turned into zombies:

1. Start simple

Looking for a way to start re-engaging can be daunting. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and push your contact even further away, but saying nothing at all won’t work either. Instead, start simple. To begin, all you have to do is create an email that tells your inactive contacts you’ve noticed they haven’t been engaging and give them an opportunity to choose to stay subscribed or officially opt out.

Below is an example of potential copy for this first email:

Subject line: Are you there?

Hi [First Name],

We’ve noticed you haven’t interacted with one of our emails in a while, and we miss you! Are you still interested in [insert business name]? We sure hope so, but if you’re not, you can click here to opt out. If you are, click here to remain subscribed.

Keep this message short and sweet so you don’t lose your zombie’s attention. You can also consider adding a brief note about when you’ll be sending them emails and what they can look forward to. This way, they’ll be more likely to engage in the future if they decide to remain subscribed.

Don’t beat yourself up if you get some unsubscribes from this message. At least you gave it a shot — and an unsubscribe is better than an inactive subscriber who is dragging down your email deliverability rate.

2. Ask them if they want to change their preferences

Another simple way to test the waters with an inactive subscriber is to ask them if they want to update their email preferences. Maybe someone is still a fan of your company and its emails, but they haven’t received anything they’re interested in lately. When you ask them directly, it shows you care and want to improve, which is a great first step in forging a positive sender-contact relationship.

With this tactic, you’ll also get information straight from the source about what content they want to see and how often so you can segment contacts accordingly.

Don’t forget to include an unsubscribe link in this email, so if the zombie is truly uninterested, they can just see themselves out.

3. Provide value

If you know what types of emails your zombie previously engaged with and the content they clicked on, use this information to your advantage! The data won’t lie, and you’ll know exactly how to intrigue them to engage with your business again.

For example, if they signed up for emails to receive a free workout guide, get their attention again by sending a new and improved exercise plan their way.

You most likely have multiple contacts who initially signed up to receive emails for the same reason. Work smarter, not harder by creating a segmentation based on previous engagement and sending them all the same re-engagement email.

4. Offer events

People may have ended up on your email list from an event they attended. Go through your current zombie list and find these contacts, then send them some free events you’re offering. You can even send them past event replays you think they’d like based on what they’ve attended before.

Sample copy:

Hi [First Name],

It’s been a while since [insert event name], and we wanted to invite you to a free upcoming webinar that we think is right up your alley! Here’s the link to register.

[Registration link]

If you can’t make this event, we’ve included a list of previous events below and links to their replays so you can watch in your free time:

  • [Event replay #1]
  • [Event replay #2]
  • [Event replay #3]

‘Tis the season to re-engage

With the holiday season right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to awaken some zombies and get them ready to engage in your upcoming campaigns. You have effective strategies and best practices in your back pocket, so there’s nothing to be afraid of as you get started. More engaged contacts and a healthier contact list await.

Once you’ve dealt with your zombies, learn how to use emails to close more business by downloading our free guide.

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