The Global VC

Before You Acquire, Reactivate — How to Reactivate Your Dormant Email List (Includes Scripts)

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500 Global Team

500 Global Team





I recently released The Ultimate Email Playbook — 43 Scripts for Startups, my 78-page tome based on my work helping hundreds of startups step up their email marketing game.

Today I wanted to share some templates and further thoughts on one of the biggest problems in email marketing — how to reactivate dormant subscribers.

We’ll start out with a crash course on dormancy in email marketing, and then get into some templates below.


While it’s sexy to acquire new users (just google image search “new user acquisition sexy” and you’ll see what I mean), it’s smarter and cheaper to do as much as you can to reactivate the users and subscribers you already have.


And yet, if it’s so obvious… why is it that most businesses don’t do reactivation, at all?

In looking through my vault of top emails — including many from my email marketing heros — this came as a shocking observation.

I was receiving email after painstaking email, not opening them, and then getting more of the same. For most of these lists, I had become a fully dormant subscriber (more on that definition later), and yet, I was being treated exactly the same as someone who was opening and engaging with every single message. It’s disappointing.

Between 60% – 75% of subscribers on email lists around the world are dormant, meaning those people haven’t opened an email from that list in 6 months to a year.

It seems obvious, but the reality is that very few businesses are proactively re-engaging dormant subscribers, buying into the distracting sex appeal of new user acquisition.

But, healthy growth is about a lot more than top of funnel activities.

If you’re even thinking about reactivation, you’re already ahead of most businesses — and your competition.

Email can be a very effective (but not the only) way to reactivate users for a few reasons:

1. It’s your OWNED channel, not a rented one.

Retargeting works, but it’s pay-to-play. By contrast, it’s basically FREE to send through reactivation efforts via email.

If users have already given you their email addresses (or you’ve acquired them otherwise), wouldn’t you rather work what you already have?

2. It’s one of the most direct channels in your multichannel mix.

Really good reactivation happens on multiple channels at once; you need to create a crescendo effect to overcome the powerful inertia of dormancy.

While email isn’t the only channel to reactivate…

…you should also pull in paid retargeting, SMS and phone where available, and content marketing as a layer on top of it all…

Email is your bread and butter reactivation channel because your message has the potential to go straight to the user (theoretically).

Later on in this post, I’ll set you up with a few actual email templates you can paste in right now to start working on that dormant list.

What’s a “Dormant” subscriber?

You want to send reactivation messages to a dormant segment of your list to move them up the food chain.

Josh Egan’s User States model maps over to email marketing well, even though the exact intervals are longer when it comes to email subscribers.

New ==> Core ==> Casual ==> Marginal ==> New ==> Dormant ==> Resurrected


What counts as “dormant” on an email list?

When it comes to email marketing, keep in mind that not everyone is going to interact with your emails every time you send.

Most people may not even interact within a 28 day window, depending on how frequently you send those messages.

For example, if you only sent 1 this month, and they didn’t open that one message, that doesn’t mean you’ve got a dormant user on your hands.

Instead, subscriber engagement — and dormancy — need to be measured against the actual volume of emails that you send.


“Did they open an email within the last 6 months?”

But instead:

“Did they open one of the last 10 emails we sent them?”

Or whatever number fits for you. It may be fewer than 10, or more, if you’re sending at a higher frequency.

The emails in this next section are designed to wake up users that have fallen dormant.

(Btw, The Ultimate Email Playbook — 43 Scripts for Startups has 43 of these that you can steal immediately.)

TEMPLATE 1: $10 on Amazon


What all’s going on in this template:

1. A paid survey is a great way to do 2 important things at once:

  • It’s an engagement device
  • It collects customer insights

At the end of your survey is a great time to offer people the chance to stay subscribed, or to unsubscribe, like in the earlier two templates in this section.

2. The subject line is full of psychological triggers. It leverages aspiration, authority and psychological anchoring to a big brand (Amazon), and it uses some great hot words: “You/your,” a number, and a dollar sign.

3. Cheaper than acquisition. This is where things become satisfying — you can set the dollar amount based on an estimate of your subscriber acquisition costs. For many businesses, paying $10 for a reasonably engaged subscriber is not a bad deal.

TEMPLATE 2: Are you still doing that?

are you still doing that

What all’s going on in this template:

1. The subject line uses company name personalization (one of my favorite types). When we see our own first name in a subject line, we think… oh, it’s marketing. I don’t know about you, but no friend of mine has ever written me an email with a subject line starting with “Susan…”

2. It’s also really hard to say no to verifying something. “We’re going through our files to organize for the new quarter and wanted to verify…”  If it’s wrong, we get an itchy urge to correct it. If it’s right, we want to reaffirm it. It also doesn’t seem like it’s a sell.

3. It includes a benefits-focused topic. “Are you still interested in email marketing for startups?” gages whether or not the client is still a potential lead.

4. The “>>” draws extras extra attention to the verification landing page that then opts the subscriber into a reengagement funnel.

4 Golden Rules of Email Reactivation

1. You have nothing to lose. These subscribers are dormant already, so you really can’t “alienate” them further by sending them reactivation messages.

2. Choose ONE of these emails to send for reactivation; don’t send all of them because obviously they each reference a one-time question or opportunity.

3. Seek to understand why and when subscribers became dormant so that you can address your dropoff cliffs through remarketing via email and other channels.

4. NEVER DELETE SUBSCRIBERS because you can always use the emails for retargeting.

Prevent Future Dormancy

Now that you’ve done all this great work to reactivate your subscribers, don’t let it happen again.

Understand WHY your subscribers fell dormant, or unsubscribe, in the first place, then fix it.

Here are the 4 ONLY reasons for email list dormancy and/or churn:

1. Poor lead quality.

You didn’t get high quality leads. For example, if you purchased or otherwise acquired a list that’s actually not a good audience match for your product or service.

2. Email frequency too high.

You emailed too much and annoyed them, but instead of unsubscribing, they just went numb and started categorically ignoring all your messages.

3. Email frequency TOO LOW.

Most businesses — but ESPECIALLY startups for some sad reason — harbor a senseless fear of being “spammy.”

This is totally inane because what makes something “SPAM” is not its send frequency but its relevance and authenticity — both things you can easily control while still maintaining an aggressive campaign frequency.

The sad truth is that infrequent emails trigger unsubscribes or “numb out” dormancy just as frequently. They simply can’t remember who you are or why your stuff is relevant to them.

4. Poor email relevancy.

You sent content that was just plain BAD or not targeted. For example, you have been sending campaigns about women’s fashion to a bunch of young male subscribers.

This sounds silly and obvious to avoid, but it’s not always that easy depending on your subscriber acquisition and tracking efforts.


Have you tried data scraping tools?

A friend of mine has recently built (but there are others as well) which scrapes multiple (up to 50+) sources of data based on parameters that you give it, such as someone’s email address or their name. I have had a lot of success finding personal email addresses that way.

Our identities are all tied together in the interconnected Google world… case in point:

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 8.20.06 AM

Using email addresses to create audiences for ad-based retargeting is the final tool in my reactivation toolbox.

You can do retargeting that’s campaign-specific, offer-specific, or just focused around your brand and building awareness.

If you’re a b2b business, or you otherwise only have people’s work email addresses, you can use a service like RocketReach to match those work addresses to personal, or directly to Facebook UIDs, to set up the foundation for your retargeting efforts.


A dormant list is an unfortunate email marketing reality when you’ve worked hard (or paid lots) to acquire and nurture those subscribers.

But, as with all growth, there’s always something you can do.

Examine and understand your drop-off points — where and why your subscribers are falling asleep on you — and then test out targeted reactivation campaigns like the one above to bring them back.

Remember, you have nothing to lose.

To get more copyable templates (43 to be exact), and learn my other secrets for startup email marketing, and to check out The Ultimate Email Playbook — 43 Scripts for Startups.


500 Global Team

500 Global Team