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Zombie Apocalypse

I hope my series on zombie addresses has convinced you that there are zombie addresses on your list and that you should be concerned about the effect they have on delivery and metrics. Today I’d like to talk about what you can do to get rid of zombie addresses without affecting too many actual subscribers.
Anti-Zombie Weapons

One thing that many companies struggle with while dealing with zombie addresses is letting go of addresses. They are so tied up in the idea that a bigger list is better that they can’t let them go. Even if a particular address has not had any activity in 18 or 24 months, they insist that they can’t give it up, it might come back and the customer might make a giant purchase. No. It’s a zombie. It’s not coming back, except to eat your brains.

The first step to dealing with zombies is to acknowledge their existence. They are there, they are on your lists and they are dirtying up your lists. Pretending they’re not there does not make them go away. They are zombies. In no case is there a human inside. There is no potential sale lurking, waiting to jump out and act on that perfectly crafted offer.

The second thing to remember is that the humans that used to have the zombie addresses found you once and they are still interested in what you’re offering then they will find you again. They may even already be back on your list with their new email address.

While you can’t identify zombie addresses specifically, you can identify addresses that act like zombie addresses. These are addresses that have no activity over a long period of time, more than 12 months. For these addresses that haven’t had activity in 12 – 18 – 24 months, you want to confirm with the recipient that they are there and want to continue to receive mail from you.

The best way to notify them is to send an email asking if they want to remain on your list. If they fail to act, you will remove them from future mailings. Short, sweet and will let you drop off zombie addresses without much effort on your part.

I know, I know, you aren’t ready to let go so fast. After all, some people have come back after 24 months and made a purchase from the perfect offer. They’re not dead yet! OK. But you can’t get a response from them through email. They just don’t care enough about what you’re sending. That’s when you contact them through another channel.

For instance, if the email address is tied to a web account, say a social networking site or bank account or a web forum, you can also contact the user through your website. Next time they log in, send them a message that says their email address has been removed due to inactivity, but if they want to reactivate they can do so at the subscriber preference center or profile page. When they do, send them an email to confirm that this is the address where they want to receive mail. At this point you can give them a link or a magic cookie to past into the website to verify the address.

Or if you’re a bigger retailer you can send alerts to your customer service staff, so when the account holder contacts you by phone with a question or an order you can get an updated email address. If you have a loyalty program, have an alert come up at the point of sale and the clerk can ask for an updated email address.

I even know one company that would send postcards to their zombie accounts in an effort to re-engage them and get an active email address from them.

If the person never comes back, if they don’t ever interact with your business again, if none of the channels work to contact them and update the address then it really is best to just let the relationship go. It may not be you, or anything you’ve done. People move on, their interests change and that’s part of life. They may have moved outside of your service area, or they may have joined your list for a specific product that they don’t need or you don’t sell. They may have died and turned into a real zombie. In any case, they are not a viable prospect for your mail.

Email addresses and business relationships are not forever. Letting zombie addresses go is important for the health of any email marketing program.

5 comments

  1. Zombie email: Part 1 – Word to the Wise says

    […] Zombie Apocalypse […]

  2. Zombie email: Part 2 – Word to the Wise says

    […] Tuesday, we’ll talk about strategies to protect your list from being taken over by zombies. (Zombie Apocalypse) […]

  3. Zombie email: Part 3 – Word to the Wise says

    […] Tomorrow, in the final post of this series, we’ll examine how senders can identify potential zombie addresses and what steps they can take protect themselves from the negative reputation hit from zombie addresses. (Zombie Apocalypse) […]

  4. Andrew says

    Laura: Great article. I’ve shared this with our marketing group here and hope to gain some traction on my fight against zombies. Keep up the good work!

  5. J.D. Falk says

    Here’s a bit more on why zombies can be useful as spam traps:

    http://www.returnpath.net/blog/received/2010/09/catch-more-spam-with-zombies/

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