Brands shouldn't think of inactive customers as sunk costs - they should try to win them back with updated email campaigns.

Email is one of the more useful channels within content marketing. While social networks and organic search may be the most prominent and dynamic methods for attracting new business, email is a tried-and-true method for staying in contact with prospects and customers. It may not be the newest approach, but it certainly gets results.

As Brafton reported, email marketing is estimated to be 40 times more effective at attracting new business than social media. That’s why brands should never discount the power of reaching leads in their inboxes. But what about the sizable portion of addresses that never seem to respond to marketing emails, let alone open them? Many of them are past customers, which indicates they’re likely to do business again, and reaching out to them may be doubly important.

Power to the (active) people

Return Path, an email analysis firm, recently published a study of win-back programs, which are when companies try to entice customers to do business again. Return Path estimated around 20 percent of all emails sent to customers are never even opened. That means a communique to 50,000 contacts would be wasted on 10,000 people.

However, the study also found win-back programs are read by 12 percent of recipients. Further, 45 percent of those customers will begin opening and reading subsequent messages. Using 50,000 customers as a baseline, a win-back could result in another 540 active email readers. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and it could help brands net a lot of “new” business somewhere in-between fresh prospects and regular clients.

But how can content marketing be used to help with a win-back effort?

1. Start asking permission. It isn’t surprising if customers who never wanted emails in the first place aren’t opening them. Studies show that messages are much more likely to be read and clicked if the recipient has agreed to receive them.

2. Share relevant content. Sales-heavy emails aren’t necessarily going to help brands get more reads and clicks. Because email is such an important marketing tool, it deserves as much care and thought as blog posts, news stories and any other content marketing channel. Give people something that will actually capture their interest when sending out mailings.

3. Make visual media the focus. Email isn’t as bland and boring as many people make it out to be. It can include pictures, videos and GIFs, and considering how important visuals are to other channels, it’s no surprise people actually want to see more dynamic media in their inboxes.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.