As if we don't get enough emails already ...

To differentiate itself in the field of email service providers, one provider is trying to set itself apart in the small business market with the ability to automatically send a follow-up email to non-responders.

The premise behind San Francisco-based VerticalResponse’s email marketing feature is that in today's crowded inboxes, recipients can easily miss a company's email, much as they'll miss a tweet in a crowded Twitter feed.

Best practice with tweeting is to send the same content multiple times. Why not with email?

Yet with email, unlike with tweets, every “send” finds its way before a recipient's eyes. Isn't the probability greater that someone saw the first email and simply refused to open it? And if so, don’t you risk annoying someone to the point that they will unsubscribe from your precious list?

Why People Unsubscribe

Derek Overbey, senior social media manager at VerticalResponse, countered, "People unsubscribe because your email frequency is too high, or your content isn’t meeting their expectation. If your email cadence is appropriate and your content is relevant, follow-up emails will not cause your unsubscribe rate to increase."

Instead, he said, follow-up emails — when done within a well-executed overall email strategy — will only increase your open rate.

VerticalResponse research is showing an increase in open rate for customers who use "Follow-Up Email" by 30 to 50 percent.

What he says jives on a couple levels with best practices in email marketing related to solving the non-responder problem.

For starters, a subscription to an email list is a "promise," explained Daniel Burstein, director of editorial content at MECLABS Institute, the largest independent research facility focused on how people make choices, and its subsidiary MarketingSherpa, a research firm specializing in tracking what works in all aspects of marketing

"Those subscribers expect the value you promised during sign-up. So consistently delivering on that value is key. And delivering with clear messages that are synchronized to where they are, not where you want them to be," he said.

Now, if we get to the point where we have a list laden with a majority of repeat non-responders — whether or not from inappropriate cadence or irrelevant content — it could be time to do the proverbial cutting of bait.

Make It Too Good to Ignore

But not without fishing with one last piece of juicy bait. And here's where a divergence with VerticalResponse's repeat email tactic occurs. Burstein's suggestion is to carry out a win-back campaign with an irresistible piece of content, before you carry out an opt-out campaign,

"Diana Primeau, director of members services, CBS Interactive, was able to re-engage 26 percent of inactives for CNET by sending a popular piece of content as a win-back email (something she called a ‘soft winback’) before sending the traditional 'you will be removed if you do not click' type of email," Burstein added.

Another tactical issue with the repeat email to non-subscribers is whether we could get greater effect by targeting other types of recipients, like those who opened the original email but didn't click through, or those who clicked through but didn't complete the intended action.

Target Your Customers

Again, Overbey has an answer.

VerticalResponse's newest feature — even newer than Follow-Up Email—is List Segmentation, which allows you to see what actions recipients have taken on past campaigns and target them for new emails based on their past actions. The only potential downside, he said, is that it is not automated.

Automation is nice. Like automating all of these triggered sends based on user actions tracked in a CRM, said Burstein.

"These advanced features can be intimidating [for small business owners]." said Burstein. "However, advanced small business practitioners can significantly increase email results with them."

He noted one company that he’s familiar with, Hear and Play Music, that increased its customer lifetime values by 416 percent in little over a year, from $90 to more than $375, using automation and CRM.

That's a far more impressive metric to show movement in than open rates. But for small businesses, getting open rates to increase, then click-throughs, is as good a start as any at email marketing — until those plateau.

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Title image by Daria Nepriakhina.