Are you being unfair to your inactive subscribers?
Whether your subscribers came from your own website, a sweepstakes, an acquisition program, or signing up in-store or at an event, they likely signed up in anticipation of timely and beneficial communications that align to their interests in your product, service or brand.
Regrettably, a substantial portion of your list will gradually disengage through time and eventually cease engagement altogether. For many email marketers, the response to this is to purge those folks from the database on the basis of cost savings and concerns about how inactive subscribers affect email deliverability.
An email sign up is contract of sorts, with standardized terms and conditions (CAN-SPAM and its equivalents in other countries) and a clear implication of relevance. With this in mind, a large inactive population may say more about your content and segmentation than it does about the theoretical disinterest of your inactive subscribers.
This is something that every email marketing organization should consider carefully, as email is the likely the most effective and predictable relational bridge you have with your audience. Here are a few questions that can help:
Do you have preference, geographic, interest or behavioral data (web browsing or purchases, for example) that you aren't currently using to segment your mailings?
If you have this data and aren't using it, you are doing your subscribers a genuine disservice. Before you write off your inactives, try including them more selectively based on alignment with the content or promotional email being sent.
Could your email frequency and cadence be out of whack with the cycle for buying your product, donating to your cause, checking online status, etc.?
If the end game for your target audience is to take an action that happens, say every year or every two years, it's extremely important that your communications are of high value along the way of their educational journey--even more so if you send frequently. Otherwise, your email communications will become off-putting.
Is your unsubscribe link unintentionally or intentionally buried in your email?
No email marketer wants to lose subscribers. However, clearly outlined in the email "contract" I mentioned earlier is the prerogative that the subscriber has to choose to not receive your email messages. Are you unwittingly inflating your inactive list by making it too difficult to opt-out?
Perhaps you should consider moving the unsubscribe to a more prominent place in your emails only for your inactive subscribers.
Finally, are you adding records to your database as opted in without actually capturing permission?
Certain sources such as events for B2B or sweepstakes for B2C, should not result in an opt-in, even though it common practice to add them as such. If anything, those should be added to your database as "null". Most importantly, they should receive messaging that properly introduces your email program and captures a genuine opt-in. Anyone not officially opting into your emails after this program should be marked as unsubscribed in your database.
In closing, why am I such a big advocate for this segment? I have personally witnessed how a change in messaging strategy to this group and sub-segments of it--with a focus on relevance--can provoke almost unbelievable open, click and conversion rates. Intuitively, taking the right approach with this audience will not only improve engagement, but deliverability as well.