E-mail appending—where a vendor attempts to match e-mail addresses in its database to postal addresses in a client company’s house file—is a quick and effective way to build an e-mail database. It can be a brilliant marketing tactic or a customer relations debacle. This article is a frank look at ten common mistakes made by marketers trying to grow their lists:
Ignoring Direct List-Building Options
Before you even consider an e-mail append, are you already asking everywhere for e-mail addresses? On your website or landing pages? At all points of sale? Through your call centers? Via social networks?
Organically grown e-mail addresses are the least costly to obtain and will provide you with the low-hanging fruit. But even doing everything right will probably only yield e-mail addresses for approximately 25% of your customer or donor base and your growth rate, while steady, might not meet your marketing goals.
Not Doing Your Homework When Evaluating Vendors
There are a lot of shady vendors out there. Before you decide on a service partner, take time for a little sleuthing. Find out who they are, what their industry reputation is, who their clients are, and where they’re located. Be wary of vendors with incomplete contact information, match rates that seem too good to be true, or unverified clients, employees, or testimonials on their Web site.
Knowledge, expertise, and hands-on experience are crucial but reputation and integrity must be your initial screens. Ask the vendor how long they’ve been in business, which professional associations they belong to, what kind of industry presence they have, who their partners and clients are, and what other services they offer. Don’t risk being a guinea pig for some fly-by-night company.
Selecting a Vendor Mainly on Price
Ever heard the expression “a penny wise and pound foolish?” The least expensive solution is not always the best solution. If you do opt for a low-cost provider, be sure you know exactly how that vendor is providing you quality service and results for that bargain-basement price. A poorly-performed e-mail append can bring down your entire e-mail program and the few pennies you saved per address will pale in comparison to the revenues lost and damaged reputation you’ll incur by picking up invalid e-mail addresses and spam traps.
Appending E-mails to a Prospect List
Yikes! Watch out! Appending e-mails to a third-party or prospect list is not recommended unless you want a high spam-complaint rate. When you do an e-append, be sure you only use customer, donor, or member lists — i.e. individuals with whom you have a relationship that never got around to giving you their e-mail addresses for one reason or another.
Not Insisting on 100% Opted-In Data
A high-quality, trustworthy vendor should be able to promise you 100% opted-in e-mail addresses (with detailed opt-in info, including source information and date & time stamp). Your vendor should be able to tell you exactly where their data came from.
On a related note, insist that your vendor send a permission message to their e-mail address matches to confirm deliverability and provide your customers with an opportunity to opt-out before results are returned to you. Most vendors’ opt-in databases have bounce rates of 30% to 50% or more. We’ve seen some as high as 80%. Without the added screen of a permission message, you or your ESP risk experiencing these same high bounce rates when messaging raw results. Doing so could result in your being blocked or blacklisted by the ISPs: not pretty…
Not Insisting on List Cleaning and Suppressions as Part of Your Append Process
Your vendor should automatically perform robust hygiene services on your list—scrubbing for typos, errors, and other problematic addresses—to ensure your results are clean and deliverable.
In addition, your vendor should adhere to all CAN-SPAM regulations and run all required suppressions, including FCC Wireless Domains, the DMA’s Do Not E-mail list, and your own unsubscribe list. They should also discuss other optional suppressions that may be legally required for your industry, such as the Utah and Michigan Child Protection Acts.
Bottom line, your vendor should be as vigilant with your data as it is with its own.
Not Insisting on 100% Guaranteed Deliverable Results
Any e-mails you pay for should be deliverable. Period. They should also be the preferred e-mail addresses of your customers. If they bounce (within a reasonable post-append grace period)—and 1%-3% of results typically do—your vendor should credit your account immediately. Don’t settle for a credit towards a future project that you might never want to do with this vendor.
Overlooking the Importance of Your Opted-Out E-mail Results
As previously mentioned, part of your e-mail append process should include permission messaging, where your newly-appended customers are presented the opportunity to opt-out of an e-mail relationship with your company.
Protect these customers’ privacy rights as well as your company’s reputation by ensuring your deliverable e-mail results file is accompanied by a list of any customers who opted-out. And honor those unsubscribes!
Sending Personalized E-mail Messages to Household Append Results
A marketer’s nightmare is a personalized e-mail flub—e.g. sending email@example.com an e-mail with the salutation “Dear Beth.” Not only might it give poor Bill an identity crisis, but it probably completely alienates you from any future e-mail relationship with that household.
Be careful. If your e-mail appends are the result of a household match, skip the personalization.
On the other hand, if your e-mails are a result of an individual append, go for it.
Dumping Appended Results Right into Your House List
Just because you now have the e-mail addresses of your customers doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to buy. Yes, they may be customers, but they didn’t ask you directly to solicit them via e-mail. So, how do you handle these newly-appended e-mail addresses?
Send an unobtrusive “welcome message” to your appended e-mail addresses that introduces them to this new mode of communication with you and explains its value—e.g. what kinds of information, offers, and/or ideas you’ll be sending them, and how often.
Once again—and it can’t be stressed enough!—don’t forget to offer them the opportunity to opt out. And, as always, honor those unsubscribes!
Don’t expect your appended e-mails to immediately start performing as well as those in your house file. Have realistic expectations. Marketing studies have shown that it takes anywhere from 7-10 impressions to get someone to notice. E-mail is no different than any other marketing medium. Eventually, these e-mails will perform as well as those on your house list.
Also, when you first start messaging your appended e-mail addresses, you should expect a few bounces (1-3%) due to unpaid accounts, full mailboxes, and everyday Internet issues. A handful of complaints are also not unusual, as you are messaging recipients at an e-mail address they didn’t directly provide to you. You can prepare for this in advance by alerting your customer service department and putting extra effort into crafting your welcome message.
If you decide to pursue an e-mail append, play by the rules. Be sure to pay serious attention to planning, pricing, and process. E-mail appending, when performed in an ethical, conservative, and conscientious manner by an experienced and reputable vendor, can provide you with guaranteed deliverable e-mail addresses for up to 20% or more of your customer/donor base on your first project. The potential gains in revenue growth, market penetration, and deeper relationships with your customers are yours for the taking… and yours for the losing. You just can’t afford to make mistakes!
Jodi Baier is the marketing and communications manager at Newton, MA-based FreshAddress Inc.