Many marketers wrestle with how to best grow their email subscriber lists. There are plenty of options, but they all have different pros and cons—and sometimes even legal consequences. From worst to better, here’s a quick rundown on some of these tactics and the pluses and pitfalls of each.
The Ugly: List Purchase
You’ve seen these: they’re supposedly opt-in and targeted email lists for pennies on the thousand, making it highly attractive from a potential return-on-investment perspective.
The key word here is “potential” because not outlined in this equation are the underlying costs and reality. Purchased lists are a big no-no for mailbox providers and even some legal jurisdictions. The major reason that the message is unsolicited and ISPs and anti-spam technology are very good at filtering out and outright blocking this mail stream. What looks like a steal at pennies to the dollar turns into never ending costs related to cost per thousand sending fees, time, sender reputation deterioration, deliverability filtering and blocks.
Your existing, effective and profitable mailstream is also at risk, not to mention your brand image. A brand marketer’s job is to instill the brand in the best possible light and ideally induce a positive emotional connection. This is hard to do when the recipient’s reaction to the unsolicited email is one of frustration and annoyance.
From a legal perspective, one has to tread carefully here. For example, while not finalized, Canada’s new anti-spam law and regulations (currently in the commenting period) would make most list purchase scenarios illegal in that country—with consequences that could cost organizations $10 million dollars per day.
· Recipient value – Lose (very few if any will be interested in the value; most will be annoyed or frustrated)
· ISP value – Lose (if the mailbox users are unhappy, then this jeopardizes the ISP)
· You – Lose (even if the cost is low, factoring in all the other costs will, in most odds, return either a negative or very low ROI; and, in some cases, add in a high liability potential down the road).
The Bad: List Rental (It’s All in the Details)
With list rental, no data is exchanged. Instead, the list owner markets your campaign to its own list of subscribers. Unlike a list seller or broker, a list renter has a stronger incentive to make sure that value for all is maximized. Taking on a campaign that is not well targeted or does match the subscriber lists’ interests will result in unsubscribes, complaints, and as well as deliverability problems. A good list owner understands that these all have a negative effect on future ROI that the list can produce and as a consequence has a built-in incentive to make sure the win-win-win equation stands. A bad list owner, by contrast, will focus on maximizing short-term revenue, deteriorating the ROI potential of the list, and correlating to poor revenue potential for you.
As a list renter you want to ask the right questions, find the right partner, and one that will take the time to work with you to understand your campaign goals and objectives. Chances are that if the list owner doesn’t do this with you, then he/she hasn’t done it with others so don’t expect amazing results.
What’s the Verdict?
· Recipient Value – Win or lose (it is all in the details)
· ISP Value – Win or lose (it is all in the details)
· You – Win or lose (it is all in the details)
The Good (The Great!): Inbound Lead Generation
The most desired scenario with the highest, long-term ROI potential, your customer finding you, being interested, signing up for your newsletter, and opting in to receive what you have to offer. But, it is also the most difficult to achieve because it requires more planning and collaboration throughout the organization. It’s an approach that takes a more long-term view, which unfortunately does not always coincide with how many marketers and their compensation are evaluated. Hitting your monthly or quarterly numbers is usually your objective, but I’d argue that a longer and focused investment approach can often produce a much higher total revenue and ROI.
Here are a few important aspects to consider:
Customer/subscriber focus: It drives the right traffic! A search engine marketing and optimization strategy means nothing.
This same scenario applies to a 2 million name purchased list—if no one coverts. It is crucial to get this part right because everything will follow from it.
Content/Monetization strategy: It is essential to build a content and monetization strategy that focuses on driving traffic but it must also keep subscribers, provide value, and extract value. Both ISPs and recipients want good mailstreams, but this does not always align with what the marketer wants, revenue. The content strategy will support engagement and build sender reputation and deliverability. The monetization efforts in turn can be maximized through better deliverability and recipient responsiveness.
Program management: A great plan can be just a concept without the right execution in place. And good execution means managing a multitude of variables from frequency, preference center options, surveys, and creative details. It is impossible to get this perfect—ever—but the goal should be to try to achieve the best-case scenario through constant monitoring and testing. Gone should be the practice of sending emails with the from address “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Feedback and comments should be encouraged not only because they can make a better program, but also because this type of action on behalf of recipients is viewed positively by ISPs in calculating sender reputation.
· Recipient Value – High
· ISP Value – High (some large ISPs in fact target ads to mailbox viewers based on message content)
· You – High (but long-term)
As today’s technology, laws and regulations, and consumer preferences are all dynamic and evolving, it’s becoming essential for marketers to focus on long term win outcomes. Instead of thinking about a fast way to meet next month’s sales revenue, start planning on how to hit it out of the park.
Andrew O'Halloran is chief privacy officer at Cypra Media.