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How to craft a successful winback campaign to recover lost customers

Retaining an existing customer can cost five times less than acquiring a new one. Explore proven strategies for activating a successful winback campaign and the pitfalls to avoid.

James Gilson

James Gilson

It’s inevitable that your company will lose some customers over time, even those who were once your biggest fans or top spenders. 

Some of these reasons are outside of your control: 

  • Customers might move to an area you don’t service 
  • They may encounter financial hardship and limit their spending 
  • Or their needs have simply changed 

Other times, brands push customers away inadvertently by reaching out too frequently, failing to provide personalized experiences, or offering sub-par support. 

But not all hope is lost. You can re-engage some customers through a winback campaign, and there are clear benefits for doing so. Retaining an existing customer can cost five times less than acquiring a new one. And the more a customer shops with you, the more likely they are to make repeat purchases.

However, winning back their attention and loyalty is no easy feat, and there is little room for error. To improve your chances of bringing customers back into the fold, let’s explore proven strategies for activating a successful winback campaign and the pitfalls to avoid.

What is a winback campaign?

A winback campaign, also called a re-engagement or re-activation campaign, involves targeted outreach to customers who have stopped engaging with a brand or stopped making purchases. 

The goal of a winback campaign is to recapture the customer’s attention and get them to engage (ideally by making a purchase).

Like all successful omnichannel marketing approaches, a winback campaign should use the customer’s data and past behaviors to decide the best on-site and off-site strategies to approach them. Some customers prefer email, others prefer text, and some need direct mail. A winback campaign should balance all channels with precision. 

Winback messages can be as simple as reminding customers that your brand exists by spotlighting new features or products. Other messages will invite feedback to learn how your brand can do better. Special offers like a discount or upgraded service could help, but they won’t guarantee success.

When is the right time to launch a winback campaign?

Deciding the right time to start a re-engagement campaign depends on several factors, including your industry and typical customer behavior. 

Every business should have a measurement system to understand the value of a customer, such as average sales and customer lifetime value (CLTV). When a customer drops below a certain value point or their engagement drops, they’ve likely entered a churn state.

Ask the following questions when identifying which customers are likely to churn:  

  • How often do customers typically make purchases? Are their needs annual, seasonal, or ongoing?
  • How much do customers typically spend each quarter or year? Has the customer’s activity dropped below this baseline?
  • Has the customer typically engaged with your cross-channel marketing messages? Is the perceived disengagement because your team does not have access to all the necessary customer data? 
  • Did the customer share negative feedback regarding product or service quality? 

As soon as customer engagement begins to drift from the baseline, it could suggest that it’s time to step in and get them back on the customer journey

Marketers need a tailored strategy for churned customers before they lose them for good. Keeping them in a standard marketing pipeline won’t cut it. 

What does a winback campaign include?

A winback campaign can involve a mix of channels, including email, paid advertisement, social media, push notifications, or SMS/text messages. In-product interventions like pop-up messages are less likely to be effective, considering the customer may no longer sign into their account. 

Successful re-engagement strategies require marketers to rely on customer persona details and individual customer profiles to tailor their approach. 71% of customers expect personalized brand interactions, and 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen. 

Your company probably has a wealth of information on the customer — the products they purchased, their subscriptions, and their website activity, for starters. All that information is valuable to inform the winback campaign and deliver targeted email messaging or unmissable offers that drive customers to take action. 

Winback campaign timeline

A winback campaign will span several weeks or months, depending on the industry. The goal is to approach customers respectfully over a steady series of messages, instead of sending multiple messages in quick succession — which will probably annoy them (making it less likely to win them back).

Many companies rely on a five-part drip campaign following this general timeline:

  • We miss you - The first message reminds the customer that your brand exists. Send this between one and three months after the customer has stopped engaging.
  • We have an offer - The next message can offer an incentive, like a discount or exclusive bonus. Send this between one and two weeks after the first message.
  • Can you share feedback - The third message can invite customer feedback through a survey or by asking them to reply to the message. This message should follow the second message by one week.
  • We hate to see you go - The fourth message tells the customer that you will remove them from the email or SMS list unless they respond. This message is often sent one or two months after the first message. 
  • We hope to see you again - The final message confirms that you’ve unsubscribed the customer and encourages them to reach out if they want to stay in the loop. 

Test the timing between each message and consider mixing the order of the first three message types to see what works best with your unique customer base.  

How do I segment an audience for a winback campaign?

A composable customer data platform (which organizes customer data from multiple sources) helps marketers understand which customers are candidates for a winback campaign. 

Composable CDPs pull from a data warehouse, which is the single source of truth for customer data. This ensures that marketers access complete and accurate customer data — spanning every touchpoint, channel, and interaction — to build a personalized strategy and intelligent audience lists. 

A composable CDP can help you quickly identify customers that should enter a churn winback cycle. For example, advanced customer segmentation models can group customers who:

  • No longer purchase on a regular cadence, including those who have decreased their purchases over time.
  • Have not made a purchase in the past six months to a year (or more).
  • Do not engage with marketing outreach, such as emails, text messages, or paid social campaigns. 

Tips for creating a successful winback campaign

Effective winback messages approach each customer with highly personalized messages on their preferred channels. 

Email has historically been one of the most popular and cost-effective marketing channels, which makes it a promising winback campaign element. However, social media, SMS, and paid advertisements can also help you break through. 

Use your customer data to suggest products or offers based on their past interests and shopping behavior. Test different approaches and listen to your data to optimize your strategy over time. An optimal winback campaign will get customers to re-engage for more than just a one-off interaction. 

The following tips will help you improve your winback success: 

Identify why they left

Learn why the inactive customer may have stopped engaging with your brand. Look for any feedback they shared, including product or service reviews, customer support transcripts, or social media posts. Understanding why they left will help you find a way to directly address their potential dissatisfaction in your outreach strategy. 

Include a single, strong call-to-action (CTA)

Be direct in your outreach and provide a clear action you want the customer to take. Your team should be able to track if the customer engaged with the message, even if they do not make a purchase. Many brands approach customers with mixed messages and no clear next step, hindering success.

Leverage emotions

Generic messages and product promotions are likely ineffective for reconnecting with your churned customers. Tap into emotional marketing when crafting winback messages by leaning into your brand identity. Make them laugh. Reinforce your values in an authentic way. Prove how your product or service will make their life easier and less frustrating.

Create a sense of urgency or exclusivity

Customers are more likely to act if you present them with a limited-time discount or an exclusive offer. Subject lines that create urgency, for example, lead to a 22% higher open rate. Provide a clear time limit if you send a coupon as part of your winback campaign message. Or reinforce how you’ve reserved the offer for only the most valuable customers. 

Perform A/B testing

Test every part of your winback campaign. Everything from the delivery channel, timing, messaging, images, colors, and offers can affect your customer’s likelihood of re-engaging. 

Test one element at a time through a series of messages — send two different messages to a group of 800-1,000 customers and assess if there are notable differences in engagement — and then test a new element in the next series of messages. Subject lines and the first words of an SMS text are great places to start. 

Remind them of their loyalty program benefits

If your brand offers a loyalty program, remind members about the benefits they might be forgetting. If customers have rewards they can claim, such as dollars or discounts, mention those as a starting point for your winback campaign. 

Optimize your winback email strategy

There are many reasons why your emails may land in a spam folder, which means your customer won’t see your winback email. Ensure your team follows email marketing best practices and email list management to avoid hurting your sender reputation. If a customer is in a winback cycle, remove them from other promotional emails until you have successfully recaptured their attention. 

How to measure the success of a winback campaign

Your company should have a baseline of its customer churn compared to industry averages. For example, media companies have an average 75% churn rate, retailers have 37%, and banks have 25%. 

Monitor your ongoing churn rate to understand your overall campaign effectiveness alongside these important KPIs:

  • Conversion rate - What percent of customers made a purchase because of the winback message?
  • Engagement - Did the customer open the winback message? Did they click on a link within it?
  • Feedback - Did customers share feedback because of the winback campaign messages? 
  • Retention rate - What percent of customers did the company retain quarter-over-quarter?
  • Sales - What is the total sales value from the winback message?

Winback campaign examples

Retail winback campaign examples

Retail business dynamics vary greatly based on the product offering. However, there is usually a regular cadence that customers shop. Retailers also have plenty of customer data to inform their outreach strategy.

Ongoing customer surveys are vital for helping retailers understand individual customer preferences and identify the right products to promote in their ongoing marketing messages. During a retail winback campaign, the brand should highlight specific product offerings based on the customer’s past interests and use tailored discounts to encourage them to purchase. 

For example, a retail winback campaign could first use a paid social media advertisement to spotlight a new product collection. If the customer does not engage with the social ad, they can receive an email that promotes specific products based on their interests a few days later, as well as a 15% off coupon. If they do not engage with the email, then they can receive an SMS inviting them to take a customer survey and receive 25% off their next purchase for doing so. 

Other retail winback messages could:

  • Remind customers of their loyalty program benefits
  • Spotlight new options, like virtual reality shopping or try-before-you-buy offers
  • List notable product details, like sustainability or supply chain information

Telecomm winback campaign examples

Telecomm companies typically sell a subscription service and the buying cycle is less frequent than in other industries. 

Customers often switch their internet or phone provider based on price or service quality issues, like a spotty phone connection or video streaming quality issues.

Telecomm customers will likely stay with a new provider for at least a year given how most contracts work. After customers have been churned for almost a year, a company could successfully win them back by promoting a service discount for returning customers. 

For example, an internet provider could send a targeted email offering a discounted rate for three months or offer a higher service tier for a lower price, such as targeting known gamers with upgraded bandwidth. The provider could also send targeted SMS messages or direct mail that reinforce the value they offer and entice customers to return. 

Phone providers often promote phone trade-in deals during a winback campaign and spotlight the convenience of being able to keep the same phone number. 

Other telecomm winback ideas include:

  • Mention improved connection speed or coverage area
  • Highlight customer satisfaction ratings 
  • Promote partner discounts, like a free streaming service subscription

Finance winback campaign examples

Finance companies like credit card providers and banks rely on loyalty to retain customers. If a customer cancels their credit card or switches banks, it may mean the customer does not trust the institution with their money. 

Other times, customers could churn when they seek different cards or providers that offer incentives, like additional bonuses on specific spending categories or a higher interest rate on savings accounts. 

To re-engage churned customers, financial institutions must rely heavily on their customer intelligence, why they chose the provider in the first place, and what caused them to go in a different direction. 

A credit card company, for example, can create a winback campaign starting with a direct mail offer that spotlights a specific card and its benefits, making it easy for the customer to apply. They can follow the direct mail with paid social media advertisements, where the customer can click through to the company website and explore benefits. 

Finance winback campaigns could also:

  • Offer a points bonus for reactivating
  • Give discounts for ride-share partners
  • Reinforce why the company is trustworthy

Sports winback campaign examples

Sports sales are seasonal and can depend on the team’s success. Most sports teams will market to their customers to buy tickets or engage with their vendors during distinct seasons, and organizations shouldn’t pester people during the off-season. Audience segmentation is effective for approaching the right customers with the right message (like the Boston Red Sox do). 

Season ticket holders and frequent ticket buyers are most valuable to target for winback campaigns, as well as customers who typically purchase a few tickets each season. It is important to recognize if a customer has moved and is no longer located in the team’s city, as that will greatly impact their likelihood of buying tickets.

Given the community feel that sports teams strive to create, winback campaigns can often involve highly personalized experiences and outreach methods, like a direct call from the team’s leadership or an invitation to an exclusive event for previous season ticket holders. Sports winback campaigns can also offer free merchandise, like jerseys or memorabilia, or discounted food vendor prices to encourage customers to return. 

Sports winback campaign messages could also:

  • Enter customers into a raffle for VIP experiences or signed merchandise
  • Offer discounts for bulk purchases
  • Provide charitable donations with each purchase

Media and entertainment winback campaign examples

Media and entertainment companies often experience high customer churn, especially streaming companies. Other companies like casinos and theme parks engage seasonal customers, which can be difficult to draw back. 

Emotional marketing can be effective with media and entertainment companies, spotlighting thrill and entertainment — and potentially life-changing opportunities.  

A casino could activate a winback campaign that starts with an email promoting upcoming events at the casino and offering exclusive ticket offerings. The casino could then send a text message offering free slot plays or double points during a specific weekend. The casino could also send direct mail offering a discount on hotel bookings.  

Media and entertainment companies can also:

  • Promote new shows or media categories based on customer watch history
  • Highlight new or improved rides or shorter wait times
  • Generate excitement with exclusive events or opportunities

Refine your marketing strategy to reduce your reliance on winback campaigns

It’s likely impossible to achieve 0% customer churn (we can dream!), but your marketing team should consistently test new customer engagement strategies to find ways to improve the customer journey and maximize your retention.

Customer journey orchestration helps you build a successful omnichannel marketing strategy that improves your customer lifecycle value — and reduces your reliance on winback campaigns. 

Monitor your engagement metrics and know when to give customers special attention to win them back. The process will become a breeze with practice, and you can use it as one of the many elements of your successful marketing strategy. 

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