Why Users Ignore Your Emails

Four ways to convert your dormant users


I love exploring new products, especially mobile apps. I signup for new products almost every day. Some intrigue me enough to spend some time on them, some end up on my home screen, but most get forgotten. In their logs, I end up being a ‘sleeping user’ or a ‘dormant user’.

Every product collects such dormant users — users who signup but never come back. In every product I worked on, I’ve had to deal with them, sometimes in large numbers.

Most product teams deal with such dormant users in a typical fashion — send a ‘welcome’ email, a few ‘get started’ emails, new feature launches, holiday greetings, etc. Some people try to make it personal with a ‘we miss you, please come back’ emails. I find them a bit irritating.

The assumption is that either the user didn’t understand the product, didn’t find it valuable enough, or was simply not the target user; therefore helping them understand what it does, the value it provides, and showering them with ‘we miss you’, might urge them to come back.

I ignore 99% of such emails. If someone sends too many (or ‘we miss you’), I simply unsubscribe.

But there’s a few products whose emails I don’t ignore — in fact, I look forward to them.

First is Mattermark. I signed up a long time ago, spent a few minutes doing some quick research, and never went back. I hardly saw any ‘we miss you, please come back’ emails. They regularly send a ‘Mattermark Daily’ emails, with curated content from investors and entrepreneurs.

Being an entrepreneur, I find that very useful. I may not read a lot of those blogs, but I skim through the list to see if there’s anything interesting, and I found several that were very insightful. I’m pretty sure their open rates are pretty high.

Some others are: Invision and Intercom. I use these products on a regular basis, but I religiously open their emails, because they’re almost always high quality content. And there’s content driven products like Quibb, ProductHunt, etc. for which email is a big part of the product experience.

What’s interesting about Mattermark is: I don’t use it, but they have my mindshare. In the future when I do need to lookup companies, I know where to go. If someone I know has a need for a service like Mattermark, I will refer them. I am a ‘dormant but engaged’ user. Thanks to one, simple email they send that has nothing to do with selling their product.

So the point is:

When dealing with dormant users, email is your best chance —be helpful, thoughtful, and gain their mindshare.

An opportunity to be incredibly thoughtful, to set aside your product and give them what they might find useful, without expecting them to take any action.

To obsessively put the focus on the user — their desires and aspirations — and not the product.

In mobile there’s a debate on email vs push, but for dormant users push notifications is almost always a bad idea, unless they deliver real value in some way. Email is a noisy channel but way less risky than push. In fact, many successful products started out as email products — AngelList, Quibb, ProductHunt, TheSkimm.

I encourage people to prioritize four types of emails to dormant users:

1. How Can I Help You

Send a simple email from the founder’s email id asking the user you can help them. All you know is: something triggered them to try out your product. So there’s a good chance they are your target user. They may not have seen value in your product, but may respond to this simple, humble question. I’ve seen a fair amount of response to these types of emails. In fact, in some cases, these emails led to some valuable features.

2. Success Stories

Send curated stories about how similar users with similar problems are seeing success, regardless of your product. For example, if your target user is an e-commerce merchant, send as many stories about how similar e-commerce merchants are driving more sales doing x, y, & z. If those stories involve your product, great. Even if not, they might find it useful.

3. Insights & Inspiration

Send curated content (created by you or industry thought leaders) regularly that provide insights and inspiration to the target users. If it’s your own content, great. Even if not, they might thank you for it.

4. Personalized Emotional Triggers

If there’s any data about dormant users, look for ways to tap into their emotion. For example, if your product is a job board, send an email every time someone views the user’s resume, or every time a positive activity happens on their profile. They might come back if they feel they’re getting noticed.

Converting dormant users requires a lot of experimentation, but if you approach it from the angle of ‘what they might find useful’, rather than ‘how can I explain my product better to them’, it might work better. Gaining their trust and mindshare is a better goal than trying to convert them.

One of my favorite videos on marketing is from Steve Jobs, the best marketer of our generation, worth a watch for every marketer out there:


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