Customer winback email campaigns: Our favorite strategies & tips

Man smiles as he checks his email on a laptop.
Sep 27, 2023

Tapping into a pool of existing customers can be much more successful and cost-effective than acquiring new leads and moving them through your sales funnel. Leverage your existing database of previous customers familiar with your brand by launching a customer winback campaign. This email method strategically moves your interested, but lapsed audience through a personalized sequence of emails that increases the chance of them making a repeat purchase. Here’s how to do it. 

What are Winback Campaigns?

Winback email campaigns target former customers in an attempt to re-engage them with your brand and make new purchases. This audience consists of inactive subscribers who haven’t engaged with emails or made purchases in a specified time frame. 

The benefit of using a customer winback strategy is that you don’t have to start at the top of the sales funnel with these customers. They’re familiar with the brand and the product or service solutions you offer. Instead of having to do all of that education as you would with completely cold leads, you can instead jump directly into the middle of your sales funnel.

There are several ways you can launch a successful customer winback email campaign. Keep reading to learn how to segment lapsed customers, what types of winback campaigns to consider, plus implementation tips and our favorite winback email subject lines. 

What do Lapsed Customers Look Like?

Lapsed customers don’t all look the same. They may have different reasons why they’ve stopped buying from your brand. Understanding those different scenarios helps you come up with an effective email strategy to become relevant for each segment of your lapsed customer audience. 

Four of the most common reasons include:

  • Change in interests: Your product or service simply may not be relevant anymore.
  • Took advantage of a one-time deal: Did you gain a spike in customers by offering a one-time deep discount? Some lapsed customers may not fall into your normal price range.
  • They’re a seasonal shopper: Your products may only be relevant to some customers at certain times of the year, like Christmas or Mother’s Day.
  • Your emails are falling into spam: If customers don’t see your emails, they can’t buy again. 

Some previous customers may simply have signed up again with a new email address. Keeping your CRM clear from duplicate data is an important maintenance task. 

Tips for a Great Winback Campaigns

Ready to re-engage your lapsed customers? Follow these tips before you launch your winback email campaign. 

    1. Make the right offer: Skip offering a percentage discount and instead offer a dollar amount off. Why? Research shows that promoting this offer is twice as effective as offering a percentage off. Grab the reader’s attention and ensure higher click rates by displaying the discount directly in the subject line. Here’s an example subject line: “$15 off your next order.” You’ll get better results with this option rather than a 10% or 20% discount (even if the customer savings is the same).
    2. Always A/B test your templates and messaging: Test different variables to a select audience before sending your email campaign to all lapsed customers. Alternatively, you can test the entire audience now in order to make adjustments to future winback campaigns. Either way, test variables such as subject lines and the number of emails in your winback sequence. Only change one variable with each round of testing so you can identify the contributing factor to better results.
    3. Experiment with tone and sentiment: Another variable you can target with your A/B testing is the tone and sentiment. Try out a few different approaches, such as a straightforward voice (like focusing on the savings) or an emotional appeal (like talking about charities your company supports). Alternatively, you could test a time-sensitive offer versus education on the value your product or service provides. Track the results of each A/B test to determine the best email tone for your lapsed audience. 
    4. Give time for re-engagement: Winback campaigns may take time and don’t always lead to an immediate purchase. That means you shouldn’t immediately remove subscribers from lists if they don’t reengage right away. Winback emails can be sent every three to six months. Include lapsed customers in a few rounds of those campaigns before deleting them due to lack of interest. 
    5. Create a winback sequence: Don’t send just one re-engagement email and think that will lead to a spike in sales. Test a variety of different content and calls to action to try and re-engage subscribers. Additionally, include at least three separate emails in your winback campaign sequence. You can schedule these over the course of a week or a few months, depending on the time sensitivity of your offer (such as a discount).
    6. Focus on one clear call to action: A winback campaign should be simple and contain just one call to action, rather than several options to choose from. This helps your customer make a decision and it helps you better analyze your data. Examples include making a product recommendation or offering an incentive. 
  • Consider a cross channel approach: A successful customer winback campaign doesn’t have to be limited to email alone. Implement a cross channel strategy to take your offer to social media platforms as well. This is a great way to increase awareness and make sure you’re not limiting results because your emails are landing in spam folders. 

About Winback Email Subject Lines

A successful winback campaign starts with the email subject line. After all, you have to entice recipients to open the email before they can take any action. Two of the most effective subject lines you can use for lapsed customers include the phrases “Miss you” and “Come back.” Read rates are higher with these options. 

Also remember to focus on dollar amount discounts rather than percentage discounts if your winback campaign involves a sale.

Ready to get inspired? Steal any of these effective winback email subject lines to start re-engaging your lapsed customers. 

  • It’s been a while
  • [First Name], We Want You Back
  • We Miss You [First Name]
  • Where Have You Been [First Name]?
  • Come back to [Company Name]

Our Favorite Customer Winback Strategies

As you narrow down your subject line wording, consider the type of customer winback campaigns you can implement throughout the year. Read on for three of our favorite strategies (all the examples below are courtesy of Really Good Emails).

Unique winback offers: Start by determining the actual offer you’re going to use to win back customers. Obviously, a discount is a great incentive to encourage people to make a repeat purchase. However, you can make this offer even better by personalizing the offer as much as possible. Maybe you make a recommendation based on their previous purchase or browsing history.  Or maybe you leverage demographic data to make a custom offer. Whatever you choose to do, always include the offer itself in the subject line to increase open rates. 

In the example below, personalized book suggestions are offered based off of a customers previous activity.

Email winback example

Create a winback sequence: A sequence is a series of emails targeting your audience rather than a standalone. And just like in other areas of life, teamwork makes the dreamwork! So craft your winback campaign as a sequence of emails spread out over the course of a week, a few weeks, or even a few months. This series of reminders reintroduces your brand to optimize your chances of winning back customers. 

Here’s an example of how a winback sequence could work. The first email could simply contain a “hello” message to remind lapsed customers of your brand. The next email could then include an incentive to get them to buy again. The third email could ask for feedback so that you still gain insights on objections your brand needs to overcome.

The emails below are all part of a winback sequence from You Need a Budget, offering tips and incentives for users of the service to login again.

Series of winback emails sent by You Need a Budget Even if the customer doesn’t end up purchasing, you have an idea of what is preventing them from making a purchase. If you notice trends that emerge from a large percentage of your lapsed audience, you have an idea of what changes to consider making in your overall marketing strategy.

Seasonal campaigns: A seasonal winback campaign is a great way to engage people who only purchase at certain times of year. They also work for companies who focus on season-specific products. For instance, a company that sells sandals could launch a spring winback email campaign to encourage former customers to buy sandals before their summer vacation. 

Another idea is to create a seasonal campaign around certain gift-giving times of year, like the winter holidays or Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Make it easy for your lapsed customers to finish their gift shopping with customized emails delivered straight to their inbox!

In the example below, YouTubeTV is inviting customers back in time to view the Super Bowl.

YouTubeTV winback email example

Any brand with a list of lapsed customers should incorporate some type of customer winback email campaign. And it’s easy to do when you implement automated triggers based on specific time parameters. Once you have a system in place, you’ll keep a clean list that is regularly re-engaged because you make the right ask at the right time throughout the year. 

About the Author

Elsbeth Russell

Elsbeth has nearly two decades of experience helping brands attract and engage audiences through content. For the past six years, she’s been dedicated to helping B2B companies in the email marketing space connect with audiences through community building and social media marketing.