Email Re-Engagement Programs: Advice From Frank Underwood


Frank Underwood from Netflix’s “House of Cards” may be a ruthless politician, but he might also just have some words of wisdom for the email marketing industry.

My husband and I are big House of Cards fans – and while we did not start the third season on Netflix right away, we are digging into it now. While watching one of the episodes, Frank made a comment that I really liked. It made me think about how we, as an industry, look at email re-engagement. It is pretty black and white – “yes” the customer opened, “no” the customer didn’t – there is no in between. But according to Mr. Underwood, “You can’t turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ without a ‘maybe’ in between.”

There is a lot of debate in the industry around the importance of email program engagement. Regardless of what side of the argument you are on — the importance to the ISPs, the importance to your revenue, the importance to the brand, etc. – the fact remains the same: if someone isn’t opening the email they are not engaging with the channel. That’s not to say that an important impression isn’t made, because it may very well be, but truly engaging with email is more than just reading your subject line.

Email marketers looking to launch re-engagement programs are ultimately leveraging a channel that is not driving engagement to, well…drive engagement in that same channel. The success of that program is often determined by the action of the recipient. Open = yes, unopened = no. But where is the “maybe” step in between? We don’t account for it today.

So how do you incorporate the measurement of “maybe” in to your engagement formula? It requires looking at your customer in a much more holistic and multi-channel way. To get a “maybe” means finding a correlation between sending an email to a customer that drives engagement in another channel. What if a customer visited your website within three hours of receiving an email communication from you? Or picked up the phone and called your customer service center to inquire about a product? Or even tweeted something about your brand? All of these actions are engagement with the brand, likely driven by the email channel – but do not qualify as email engagement. So do you suppress them because they didn’t open?

Once you have that “maybe” it is time to figure out if that subscriber will ever be email active again. Leveraging the channels the customer is engaged with can provide a solid communication vehicle to better understand how they do or do not use (or value email) as a mode of communication with your brand.

Getting to this view of “maybe” could prove to be a bit challenging for some organizations – but in the end, worth it. As Frank once said, “There are two kinds of pain. Good pain – the sort of pain that motivates, that makes you strong. Then there’s bad pain – useless pain, the sort of pain that is only suffering. I welcome the former. I have no patience for the latter.” Getting to “maybe” is good pain and you should welcome it.