Unlocking Audience Engagement: A Guide to Implementing Sunset Policies

sunset policy
Published on
Apr 10, 2024
Written by
Elodie Huston
Written by
No items found.
Thank you! You've been subscribed.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

It’s time to apply your tried-and-true email sunset policy to your SMS marketing program. 

When you have mature SMS and email subscriber lists, knowing when to reach out and when to step back can be tricky. You don’t want to leave engagement on the table by leaving a subscriber out of a send, but you don’t want to overdo it and run the risk of increasing your unsubscribe rate. And while there are a lot of different segmentation strategies that can help you reach the right shopper, they don’t necessarily help you figure out how often you should engage your subscribers. That’s where sunset policies come in. 

Sunset policies (a segmentation strategy based on subscriber engagement) may be old hat in email marketing, helping marketers maintain a healthy deliverability and engagement rate and subscriber list without having to always remove subscribers. But for mature SMS programs, this strategy can help marketers ensure they’re making the most of their budgets by reaching shoppers who are most likely to engage. 

What is a sunset policy? 

A sunset policy is a strategy that helps marketers determine when and how often to engage with their audience. Think of it like squeezing the wet end of a rag: You’re going to send more messages to subscribers who’ve shown interest in your brand lately, and send fewer to those who haven’t engaged in a while. 

This segmentation strategy takes a few factors into account: 

The goal of a sunset policy is to maintain a healthy email list without having to remove subscribers. But there’s a clear benefit for SMS marketers, too—it’s a strategic way to save your budget and ensure the overall health of your text messaging list. 

How to create your sunset policy 

Your sunset policy should be tailored to your brand’s products, your audience, and your channel. All of these factors will influence how often your shoppers engage with you, when they’re likely to purchase (or repurchase), what types of messages you send, and what marketing moments you anchor yourself to. 

For example: If you’re a personal care brand, your customers are probably making purchases on a regular cadence (say, every month). You know you won’t fatigue most shoppers if you reach out once a month, and you won’t miss out on an opportunity to drive conversions.

However, you also want to be mindful of shoppers who stock up (and might purchase multiple items during major sales or certain times of the year). Here’s what that could look like in action.

how to create your sunset policy

With that example in mind, let’s walk through how you can build your own sunset policy to engage the right shoppers at the right time. 

Step 1: Determine your time frame

As a general rule, we recommend taking an annual view when building your policy. However, it's important to consider your price point because that can influence the length of your time frame.

Here's the deal: If you're selling higher-priced products, it's a good idea to have a longer time frame. Customers who are making major purchases need more time to evaluate their purchases. This means they might not engage with your brand as frequently as those buying lower-priced items.

On the other hand, if you have a lower price point or your products have a higher rate of repeat purchases (think: beauty items that need to be replaced frequently), you can shorten your time frame. Your customers will tend to make more frequent purchases, so you don't need to wait as long to assess their engagement. 

Step 2: Identify your key audiences

Next, break down your your email or SMS audience into different categories based on their level of engagement. Before building your segments, however, it’s important to define exactly what engagement means to you, such as opening or clicking on an email, or clicking or converting on a text message.  

As a rule of thumb, your subscribers should fall into four tracks: 

  • Track 1: Super Engagers. For email, this could look like users who have opened within the last seven days. For SMS, this could be users who have clicked within the last seven days.  
  • Track 2: Less Engaged. This could be email subscribers who have opened within the last 8-90 days, or SMS subscribers who have clicked within that same time period.
  • Track 3: Least Engaged. These users have opened an email or clicked on a text message within the last 90-180 days. 
  • Track 4: Seasonal and Winback. These subscribers typically haven’t engaged with your SMS or email campaigns in more than 180 days. These are shoppers who engage with seasonal offers (like your annual blowout sale or on Black Friday), or are purchasing season-specific items (such as a swimsuit once a year). These subscribers could also be ready to be won back with the right offer or product. 

Step 3: Decide what types of campaigns you’ll send, and when: 

Next, you’ll need to take inventory of the campaigns your brand sends throughout the year. 

Typically, your campaigns can be categorized into four buckets:

  1. Major holidays or marketing moments: These campaigns usually coincide with special occasions or significant marketing events. They're perfect opportunities to showcase your best offers and promotions. Think of holiday sales, seasonal discounts, or exclusive deals during key shopping periods.
  2. Rare offers: These campaigns are reserved for special occasions, such as end-of-season sales or VIP events. They create a sense of exclusivity and urgency, enticing your audience with limited-time offers or unique experiences.
  3. Weekly sends: These are your regular, ongoing campaigns. They can include newsletters, new product releases, or general promotions. These consistent touchpoints help keep your brand top of mind and maintain engagement with your audience.
  4. Follow-up sends/better offers: This type of campaign is targeted towards users who have shown interest in your previous campaigns but haven't converted yet. By sending them follow-up messages with better offers or incentives, you can nudge them towards making a purchase or taking the desired action.

By categorizing your campaigns into these buckets, you can strategically plan when to send each type of message to different segments of your audience. This ensures that you're delivering the right content at the right time, maximizing engagement and conversion opportunities.

Step 4: Match your campaign categories to your audience to inform your cadence

Once you’ve identified your time frame, key audiences, and campaign categories, it’s time to plan your messaging cadence. 

To begin, prioritize your super engagers. Since these subscribers consistently show high levels of engagement, you can send all of your campaigns their way including any enticing follow-up sends. You can hold your less engaged subscribers back from your follow-up sends to avoid fatiguing them and save your budget. 

When it comes to your least engaged segment, take a more conservative approach. Consider alternating which weekly campaigns you send them (perhaps including them in one send a month, rather than two or three). These subscribers should still receive your major campaigns to keep them connected to your brand, and increase the chances they convert with a special offer. 

Finally, hold your seasonal and winback audience back from any send other than your major campaigns until they begin engaging with your content again. 

Sunset policy best practices

Creating a sunset policy is an effective way to maintain the health of your email deliverability, and preserve your SMS budget. To help you maximize revenue while safeguarding your deliverability rate, here are three essential tips to keep in mind:

  1. Respect engagement levels: Avoid sending emails to subscribers who haven't opened a message in more than 180 days. By excluding these inactive subscribers, you can focus your efforts on engaging with those who are more likely to interact with your content.
  2. Mind your frequency: Unless a subscriber is a super engager who consistently opens and clicks on your emails, it's best to limit your communication to no more than one email per day or four times per week. For SMS, we recommend sending about eight messages per month to avoid fatiguing subscribers. 
  3. Be sure to always A/B test and iterate: While your sunset policy should serve as a framework for engaging your audience, you should still experiment with different cadences, messaging strategies, and audience segments to find the right approach for your audience. 

This framework will help you determine which audiences to engage to get the most bang for your buck, but it’s not an exact science. But thanks to the rise of AI, you don’t need a data scientist to get these recommendations and recipes for success tailored to your brand anymore. 

Tools like Attentive AI Pro can do the heavy lifting of audience management for you, identifying which subscribers are most likely to convert at any given time, and removing those who aren’t likely to engage. Want to learn more? Join our waitlist. 

Related Articles