The most common mistake marketers make when it comes to acquiring e-mail subscribers has nothing to do with where they place the sign-up box on their Web site, or what incentives they offer, or even which media they use to promote their e-mail offering. No, according to Andrea Orvis, group director for strategic services at e-mail marketing services provider e-Dialog, the number-one error organizations make is failing to understand “the value of an e-mail address and the value of a subscriber over time.”
Assessing the value of an e-mail subscriber is similar to conducting a basic lifetime value (LTV) analysis—determining the online and offline sales and the profit generated by the subscriber over a defined period of time. If you don’t know how much your subscribers are worth, you could end up spending much more than is profitable in trying to grow your e-mail list.
And, in fact, it is possible to acquire high-quality, engaged subscribers without breaking the bank. “The sources that give you the most bang for your buck are sources that you can control,” Orvis says. “Your Web site gives you the number-one biggest bang for your buck. Number two is outside pages that you control, such as your Facebook pages or your Twitter feed.”
An alarmingly high number of brands fail to include a link to their e-mail subscription page on their Facebook pages, just as many brands bury the subscription link below the fold on their home page or as part of a drop-down menu with a vague label such as “Contact us.” Orvis also advocates promoting e-mail sign-up throughout the purchase stream—for instance, making sure there’s a box that customers can click as they’re about to check out.
Another overlooked source of subscribers: transactional e-mail messages. “One of the biggest missed opportunities is a group of people you are entitled to e-mail to and who are engaged with your brand but you’re not reaching out to them,” Orvis says. “Even though it’s not the largest in circulation, it definitely does result in the highest-value subscribers.” There are certain CAN-SPAM requirements you need to keep in mind, such as ensuring that the transactional element of the message is first and foremost (see “Make the Most of Your Transactional E-mails”), but reminding these customers to sign up for your marketing and informational e-mails is otherwise simple and inexpensive.
If you need what Orvis calls “a very aggressive approach to list acquisition,” look beyond your own properties into options such as list rentals and coregistration. “Renting names can be effective,” she says. “But it can be an expensive means of acquisition. For some industry sectors”—particularly highly targeted niches—“it can work better than others.”
Which brings us back to the importance of knowing the value of your subscribers, so that you know how much you can afford to spend, and of tracking the effectiveness of each acquisition source and method over the long term. Orvis cites the cautionary tale of a client that gathered 50,000 new subscribers by running a sweepstakes. “When looking at the group over a period of time, we found that more than half subsequently unsubscribed,” making this campaign appreciably more expensive on a per-subscriber basis than it originally appeared to be.
Orvis stresses the importance of continually testing, evaluating, and optimizing your acquisition efforts. “It’s really knowing and understanding your subscriber database and evaluating it,” she says.
Of course, even if you do that, your work is hardly done. “Once you get a subscriber it’s all well and good, but make sure you do a good job of welcoming that subscriber to your database with a lifecycle approach and are leveraging any profile information they’ve given you,” Orvis adds. “You don’t want to lose them early on.”