With a large and active e-commerce marketing list–one that’s Can-Spam compliant, platinum-plated, and enhanced with dozens of self-provided data points on life stage, category purchase history, and technology usage–you can pretty well match any product to its likely purchaser.
But what if you don’t have that depth of information? What if the only thing you have is an e-mail address?
Actually there’s a lot you can predict with respect to overall responsiveness, spam complaints, and unsubscribe and abandonment rates based on e-mail address. Here’s what I’ve observed for the dozen or so domains that represent about two-thirds of most e-mail lists:
@yahoo.com Yahoo! utterly dominates Web-based e-mail. Yahoo! accounts can make up 18%-25% of a commercial e-mail list’s total membership. More than those of any other e-mail domain, Yahoo! accounts have a free and disposable nature to them.
For consumers, it is easy and makes good sense to register for a Yahoo! e-mail account for the purposes of signing up for programs and opening retail accounts. When the inboxes become unwieldy, many users just abandon them and move on. Therefore it’s not uncommon to have to clean up 2%-3% of your Yahoo! names every month due to users abandoning their boxes.
Consistent with users’ perception of disposability, Yahoo! addresses have lower unsubscribe rates–likely due to the fact that it’s just as easy to get a new e-mail address than to click through on an unsubscribe link. Additionally, Yahoo! has not yet moved to enforce “mark message as spam” the way that Hotmail and AOL have.
With respect to clickthrough response rates, expect a bit lower than average for Yahoo!
@hotmail.com Hotmail and its cousin, MSN, together can account for 13%-18% of your list. While they are also free and make it easy for consumers to create additional accounts, Hotmail’s and MSN’s disposability factors are not nearly as extreme as with Yahoo! Abandonment is actually pretty reasonable, though Hotmail has been known to go through some very aggressive purges of inactive accounts. At the same time, no one is more responsive with regard to blocking the e-mailers that its users have marked as spam.
Open, click-through, and response rates for Hotmail e-mail addresses are typically right at the average for an e-mail list. Hotmail’s more-aggressive efforts with regard to spam enforcement and cleaning up of inactive e-mail accounts means that the Hotmail consumer on the other end of your e-mail is much more likely to be receiving and reading your message.
@AOL.com AOL addresses are traditionally dependable and consistent. For years, AOL members remained loyal to AOL just to keep their beloved AOL e-mail addresses. That loyalty was solidified when AOL allowed its e-mail users to keep their addresses even if they moved on to a different Internet service provider. As a result, AOL accounts–typically making up 11%-15% of a commercial list–remain remarkably responsive and stable.
Broadband ISP domains SBC Global (and its affiliates and merged companies), Comcast, Time Warner/Road Runner, Verizon, Cox, BellSouth–all have response rates that index significantly higher than the list as a whole. Why? Certainly speed has a huge impact on e-commerce satisfaction. The luxury of high speed at home gives shoppers the option of purchasing either at work or from their home computers. Purchasing power? Probably above average, though that’s just a hunch. Commitment? Definitely–those who use their ISP domains for their purchases have committed their primary e-mail addresses to an ongoing stream of e-mail marketing.
Not surprisingly, unsubscribe rates among broadband subscribers are significantly higher than those for users of free services–up to double those of Yahoo!–but user who remain are most likely to be the cream of any e-mail marketing list.
Note: Broadband ISPs are the most difficult providers with which to maintain inbox delivery. Road Runner, BellSouth, and Comcast all offer unique challenges to even the most-pristine marketers.
Dial-up ISPs Earthlink.net, NetZero.net… bless them. The little engines that can. Slower speeds, but very loyal customers. Love them while you can, as their subscribers tend to be very responsive, but their share of e-mail lists continues to drop as they experience the inevitable migration toward home DSL and cable.
How can you most productively use this information? Here are three tips:
• Nurture your broadband ISP domain customers. Define them as a targetable segment to whom you can test special offers or higher loyalty tiers. Be willing to invest.
• Manage your e-mail frequency with both Hotmail and AOL. Overmailing is more likely to spur the recipient to mark you as spam, which will not only cause you to lose him as a customer but could affect your ability to reach any Hotmail or MSN member.
• Closely manage your Yahoo! list. Yahoo! places much of the burden on you to keep your list clean. If you exceed certain hard-bounce levels, you risk undeliverability. Even though response rates are lower than the other domains, the sheer magnitude of Yahoo! mail users requires that you follow Yahoo!’s rules in order to keep white-listed.
David Rosen is senior vice president of Loyalty Lab, a San Francisco-based developer of customer loyalty programs for the retail industry.