What’s the Difference Between Win Back Emails and Re-Engagement Emails?

Melanie Balke
May 20, 2022

I hate to do it, but I have to start today’s blog post with some bad news…

Eventually, someone is going to want to unsubscribe. In fact, 25% — or one in four — email subscribers will stop engaging with your content. It’s super frustrating, and it sucks to see any of your hard-earned email subscribers disappear. You have, after all, invested so much time and energy into creating engaging content, and an inactive subscriber is much like a slap in the face.

However, there’s a secret that many marketers don’t want for you to know…

A photo of the Golden Gate Bridge with overlaid and centered text, which reads, “What's the Difference Between Win Back Emails and Re-Engagement Campaigns?”

More often than not, a lost customer has been circling the proverbial sales funnel drain for some time. These individuals often spend plenty of time as inactive subscribers. They are part of the roughly 60% of email subscribers who are not engaged with your content, and they may not even be opening your emails.

So, what can you do about it?

When subscribers are not engaged with content, many marketers employ one of two strategies: a win back email or a re-engagement email.

The Win Back Email

As you may have noticed in the subject line of this post, both win back and re-engagement emails are entirely different things. They are often very similar, and they frequently feature plenty of overlap, but they’re definitely distinct approaches to the same issue.

A colorized photo of a shopping cart. Overlaid text reads, “The Win Back Email.”

I’ll start off with the win back email.

What Is a Win Back Email?

As its name implies, a win back email is a last-ditch effort to get customers to re-engage with a brand’s marketing material. More often than not, they are part of a larger automated email campaign, which triggers when a customer has not interacted with emails in some time.

Unlike re-engagement emails, a win back email is only for subscribers who are both inactive subscribers and inactive customers. In other words, these emails are reserved for individuals who have bought something in the past, but have neither opened an email nor purchased an item recently.

When Should You Send a Win Back Email?

This is where it can get tricky.

A shareable graphic with a colorized photo of downtown Los Angeles, California. Overlaid text is in the center. The heading is, “When to Send Win Back Emails.” Beneath this is smaller text, which reads, “There’s no ‘golden rule’ for when to send out a win back campaign. If you want to optimize your campaigns, then you’ll need to do plenty of A/B testing.”

When you’re developing an email marketing strategy, you need to pay special attention to the frequency of your campaigns. As much as you want to remind customers that you’re always available, you also want to let customers decide how many emails they want to receive. Nobody likes being spammed, and you certainly don’t want to end up in a spam folder.

Win back campaigns must take all of this information into account, and I can’t actually tell you what that golden window of opportunity will be. It’s up to you and your marketing team to decide when to send out your win back email campaigns, and that decision should be based on the data you gather in your A/B testing. Some companies will send out a win back campaign once per year, and others will send along these messages every six months.

If you want some advice from an expert, then here it is: ask an email marketer! If you are ever having doubts about your marketing campaigns, then it’s time to consult an expert.

What’s the Goal of a Win Back Email?

One of the more confusing aspects of win back emails is the goal. Unlike other campaigns, a win back email campaign has two possible outcomes, and both are acceptable.

The first situation is what I’m sure most people would prefer. After seeing your lovingly crafted win back email, a subscriber will pop over to your site and buy something new. If your automated workflow is set up properly, this will initiate a chain of events that changes the customer’s segmentation, placing them into the active customer and active subscriber slots.

The second outcome may not be as shiny and profitable as a new sale, but it’s just as useful. This outcome will end after the customer engages with the win back email. They will not purchase something, but their actions prove that they are still interested in your product.

The Re-Engagement Email

Let’s take a quick break and think back to what I mentioned at the top of this post. Remember how I said that win back emails are sent to lapsed customers who have purchased something? Well, then, what do you think that re-engagement emails are?

A colorized photo of many scattered envelopes. Overlaid text reads, “The Re-Engagement Email.”

If you said “a campaign sent to inactive subscribers who have not purchased anything,” then you’re correct! Your prize is getting to learn more about keeping subscribers engaged and running successful re-engagement efforts.

What Is a Re-Engagement Campaign?

I’ve already given a brief definition of this type of marketing campaign, but it’s time to dig a bit deeper.

The target audience for a re-engagement campaign is a customer who is subscribed to a brand’s email list, but they have not opened a message in a certain amount of time. They also have not yet made a purchase, which means that they are not necessarily a customer. They are, however, potential customers, and they shouldn’t be ignored!

What Is the Goal of a Re-Engagement Email?

Once again, we have a dual-pronged approach. Like the win back email, a re-engagement email can have multiple outcomes.

The best outcome will be a new sale. After seeing the campaign and its call-to-action, a customer will be so enthralled that they opt to make a purchase. This is, of course, assuming that your re-engagement campaign’s call-to-action includes a sales link.

Otherwise, your desired goal is — as the name implies — to re-engage subscribers. This may be done with a wide variety of approaches, each of which is tailored for a specific outcome.

So, What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference between win back emails and a re-engagement campaign is the audience. This is a crucial point, and it will ultimately dictate how you handle your messaging.

Yes, there’s plenty of overlap between the two. Both email campaigns focus on inactive customers, and both of these workflows will ultimately rely upon the same framework of key performance indicators. Even so, these campaigns are not necessarily interchangeable.

Essential Tools to Win Back Customers

Now that everyone knows what these campaigns are, it’s time for some tips and tricks. Whether you’re running a re-engagement email series or producing a new win back campaign, you’ll be using many of the same tools, so I’ll start with every good marketer’s supply checklist.

A photo of a phone screen with an app badge for emails. Overlaid header text reads, “Essential Tools to Win Back Customers.”

An Email Service Provider

The first thing you’ll need is a reliable email service provider. (In industry lingo, we call these “ESPs”!) In addition to giving you the ability to send, schedule, and plan future emails, a proper email service provider will also allow you to segment your audience. This is a fancy way of saying that you’ll be able to break your subscribers into lists based upon a variety of variables.

There are a lot of email service providers on the market right now, and not all of them are created equally. Some are better than others, and one of my personal favorites is Klaviyo.

However, trying to explain all of the different ESPs here will take way too long. That’s a topic for another time! What I can say is that you’ll want to find an ESP with powerful analytics, which will tell you exactly what is happening with your email campaigns. Without accurate and reliable metrics, your re-engagement campaigns will never reach their full potential. Moreover, you won’t be able to properly determine how many inactive contacts are on your list, nor will you be able to properly gauge how many unengaged subscribers you must reach.

A Valid Email Address

Now, this may seem a little obvious, but you need to have a valid email address if you want to deliver any marketing material. Without a functional address, your messages are being wasted. This isn’t a huge issue, — especially if you’re using automation tools — but it’s disheartening to see your efforts go to waste.

Any undelivered emails will also throw off your metrics, so keep that in mind as you craft your email campaigns.

Amazing Copywriters

Even if an email uses minimal copy, the few words that are present must be good.

Think about it. If you opened an email and found a typo-ridden mess, you’d assume that it’s spam, right? Sending the same emails over and over again is a great way to annoy customers, and you’ll reap more benefits from well-written emails. At The Email Marketers, all of our work is originally published. We check, double-check, and triple-check everything that we send out, and that’s because quality matters.

A Captivating Subject Line

This ties back into an email’s copywriting, but it’s important enough to warrant its own place on my list of must-have features. Every successful email marketing series is backed by a captivating subject line. It is, after all, the first thing that customers see. You want that subject line to wow your customers, and you want to keep your subscribers engaged.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind as you develop your subject lines. One of the biggest points of failure that I’ve noticed is relevance. Yes, it’s important to have a good catch, but your subject lines must be relevant and honest. In fact, many customers who have lost interest in an email campaign have cited irrelevant and dishonest subject lines as the primary cause.

Create Personal and Relevant Content

Take a moment to back up and look at your product objectively. If you, as a customer, received your win back or re-engagement email campaign, would you be interested? Would you find enough relevant content to warrant paying attention?

Email campaigns are all about personalization. A truly amazing re-engagement email will provide exactly what your inactive customers need to know.

An email example from Netflix. The email is addressed to Smiley Davis, and there is a clear CTA at the bottom, which reads, “View All TV Shows & Movies” with an arrow pointing right.

After some careful searching, I managed to pull this amazing sample from a massive pile of email examples. This particular email campaign is aimed at inactive customers who have previously subscribed to a free trial. In addition to the eye-catching subject line, this win-back campaign treats the recipient like a loyal customer. It addresses them by name and even gives them a handy link to its preference center. In the same breath, its subject line provides a sense of urgency.

Deliver Worthwhile Incentives

Both the win-back and re-engagement email serve as perfect ways to gauge what your customers want. With a re-engagement or win back campaign, you’re letting customers decide what kind of content they want to see. In some cases, customers want exclusive discounts. In other instances, it may be that you only need to remind customers that they have an account.

Venmo has a good example of a non-monetary way to approach follow-up emails. In this email example, the target audience is a lapsed customer. The recipient is a previously engaged customer, and this particular email campaign is meant to remind subscribers that they are subscribed to the service.

An email example from Venmo. The header text reads, “New features that never get old.” Beneath this it says, “Since you’ve been gone, we’ve freshened up the Venmo experience.” The CTA is an oblong blue button, labeled “Explored Venmo”, above a screenshot of the app.

Personally, I love this campaign!

Visually, the cute illustrations accompanied by a clear and bold call-to-action are an amazing email marketing tactic. More importantly, however, is the copy. This email campaign gently encourages inactive users to return to the app, and it perfectly demonstrates how to net more email engagement from loyal customers without offering a discount code.

One of many email examples from Truebill. The header is, “You have 11 unread alerts.” Beneath this, the message addresses the previously engaged subscriber by name, saying, “Hey Smiles Davis, check your inbox to see what you’re missing. Tap the bell in the upper right corner of the app to see your alerts.”

Truebill takes a similar approach to its win back campaign. Lapsed customers are addressed by name, and they are gently reminded that the app is still available. It’s worth noting the sense of urgency that this email example imparts upon its message. “You have 11 unread alerts” is a very bold subject line, and it’s definitely not the type of header you’d want to run without rigorous testing.

Both of these engagement campaigns are amazing, but it would be a disservice of me to gloss over their limited scope. Both of these win back emails are for lapsed customers, and they will not work for everyone. If you’re hoping to net more website visitors, then you’ll need to try a different approach…

Let’s Look at Some Re-Engagement Email Examples!

Regardless of what you’re writing, whether it’s a re-engagement email or multiple messages in a win back email campaign, the best way to learn is through example!

A photo of many scattered postcards. Overlaid header text reads, “Examples of Re-Engagement Emails.”

Each of these email examples is a hand-picked demo of the power of these email marketing strategies. If you’re planning on working towards more engagement and reaching potential customers, then this is the perfect place to learn.

The Reminder Email

I’ll start with one of the simplest versions of a win back email.

A reminder email campaign is exactly what it sounds like. These messages are aimed at either lapsed customers or inactive users who have become unengaged subscribers. In general, these are most commonly sent out by subscription services. Both the Netflix and Truebill examples from earlier are email examples of this strategy.

An edited photo of a win back email campaign from Lingo. The title is, “Your free trial has ended.” Beneath the body text is a bold red-orange CTA button, which reads, “Upgrade.”

So, what do we see in this email example? Let’s comb through it and hit up each point, one by one!

  • A bold CTA: This win back email campaign, which is aimed at inactive subscribers, has a clear and concise CTA.
  • Relevant Information: Obviously, this user is interested in the product. The last step of their individual customer journey is to make a purchase, and this email campaign is a good way to create loyal customers out of free trial participants.
  • Value: Lingo has made it very clear that their photo editing app will not function properly on a free plan. If this particular lapsed customer wishes to experience the full functionality, they must make a purchase.

Here, the key takeaway is subtlety.

You’re not forcing your subscribers to buy your product. Instead, you’re giving them an option.

Remember, you don’t want to guilt customers into purchasing your product. Loyal customers are out there, and they’re the people these win back emails are made for. Even just clicking on this email shows that the customer is willing to re-engage with your products.

The Engagement Email Sales Pitch

Sometimes, your engagement email isn’t necessarily meant to sell something. Maybe, you’re just looking for more website visitors. This is when you’d send a sales pitch to inactive contacts.

Epic, a digital library for kids, perfectly demonstrates a subtle way to entice email subscribers back to your website with this email:

A sample campaign from Epic. The header says, “Special Delivery, Hot Picks.” Below is some personalized text and images of best sellers.

Once again, let’s break it down together…

  • CTA: The call-to-action for this re-engagement campaign series is rather subtle. Nonetheless, the use of eye-catching book titles is a lovely way to catch a reader’s eye.
  • Relevant Information: Clearly, if someone is signed up for Epic’s service, they’re a parent. Even a new subscriber would benefit from this colorful campaign, which hopes to re-engage inactive contacts.
  • Value: In this case, the “value” is closely tied to the relevance of this re-engagement campaign. Readers will want to know about popular children’s books, and this email example delivers.

Here’s something else that I want to point out about this campaign: this can work as both a re-engagement email or part of a win back email series. That’s one of the cool things about these paired marketing strategies. Engagement campaigns and win back emails may not be the same, but they’re often closely related, which means that there are plenty of chances to create multifunctional email campaigns.

Email Preferences and Engagement Emails

If you’re looking for a bolder approach to re-engagement campaigns, then your best bet might be an email preferences message. This type of re-engagement message isn’t actually meant to sell something, but the conversion rate is no less valuable.

Check out this email example from Bespoke.

Here, the company asks the lapsed customer to visit the company website and open their preference center. From there, the customer can provide valuable demographic information, which marketers can use to create optimized segmentations.

An email campaign from Bespoke Post. The header says, “Set Your Preferences: Turn our boxes into your boxes.” The CTA is “Set Preferences.”

One of the biggest benefits of this kind of re-engagement campaign is the promise of fewer emails in the future.

Subscribers love this. After all, wouldn’t you like to clear out some of those unnecessary emails? In addition to this unique quirk, this email demonstrates plenty of email marketing fundamentals, such as:

  • CTA: Like any good email marketing campaign, Bespoke’s email has a bold and simple call to action. Users know exactly what they need to click, and they know where it will lead them.
  • Relevant Information: These re-engagement campaigns are all about relevance! I don’t think I need to say much more, do I?

Now, these emails are not an easy sell. In fact, preference-style emails can easily backfire, as some customers may feel that they are too invasive. To get the most out of these campaigns, you’ll need to run plenty of tests and trials. Your customers will be the ones who decide whether or not the potential lost interest is worth the payoff of more relevant content.

Win Back Campaigns, Re-Engagement Emails, and You

That’s a lot of information to take in, right?

A photo of a messy office with overlaid header text, which reads, “The Conclusion: Win Back Campaigns and Re-Engagement Emails.”

Fortunately, this blog will always be available!

I also have plenty of tips and tricks for creating, maintaining, and running email marketing campaigns! If you need additional help, don’t be afraid to reach out to me. I’m always here, and I love making sure that every business has a chance to thrive!

If you need even more help, then it’s time to get in touch with the experts. While there are many digital marketing agencies out there, but one of my favorites is The Email Marketers. I’ve built this team from the ground up, and we’re always ready to tackle any project!