John W. Hayes is a marketing strategist and contributing author at Vocus, specializing in email and social media marketing.
Many marketers tell me that they are frustrated with the size of their email marketing lists and their slow rate of growth. Because many business owners equate a big list with success, they often end up considering strategies that are a long way from email marketing best practices and which might even blur the lines of legality.
Unlike other areas of online marketing (particularly SEO) where so-called black-hat marketing techniques are adopted (often unwisely) to game search engines, email marketing is governed by law and policed heavily by the ESPs and ISPs who have a reputation and a quality of service to maintain. In this respect, white hat email marketing is the only real game in town. However, that doesn’t stop some email marketers from taking unadvised shortcuts – often at their own expense.
Bad practice #1: cheap lists
Successful email marketing can usually be credited to three factors: permission, relevancy and the quality of the message or offer. An untargeted list falls at the first hurdle. It is, however, possible to rent lists from reliable sources – such as trade magazines supporting your industry, in which case you would normally provide the list broker with the campaign and they would deliver the email for you. Whenever you rent a list, it is vitally important to optimize your landing pages to capture details from interested parties.
Bad practice #2: harvesting data from dubious sources
I’ve seen this done in more than one marketing department. Scraping contact details from old databases (which might have followed a salesperson from their last place of employment). Permission to send bulk marketing communications should not move from one company to the other as easily as employees. If your new employee wants to work their old network of contacts, they need to pick up the phone.
Bad practice #3: targeting old data
Just because your company had a relationship with a prospect or customer years ago, it doesn’t mean they suddenly want to start hearing from you unexpectedly again. An email marketing relationship needs to be built from the initial client/company engagements and regularly maintained. If you have not contacted someone in the past six months, try to re-engage them before targeting them with regular email marketing campaigns. Failure to do this will result in poor levels of engagement and spam complaints.
Five white-hat tips for growing your list the right way
1. Think quality first: List size isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Your primary focus should be on list quality. As you grow (using the tips below) you should try and maintain this quality. Remember that a big, untargeted list can drive up your email marketing costs and potentially impact negatively on your reputation, damaging the return on investment you see from your email campaigns.
2. Plan for conversion: When someone lands on your website, don’t let them go without offering them something. Even if they don’t buy, you want them to return, and email marketing is the most efficient way of doing this – so incentivize them to leave their email address with you. The offer of a free newsletter is not a great incentive. Instead, offer them the promise of fantastic future deals, greater insight into the products or services you offer or something that money can’t buy, like a competition or prize drawing.
3. Get social: Social media is a great way to engage and hold conversations with your clients and potentials customers. However, it is not always a great selling environment. In an ideal world, your social media followers should also be your email marketing subscribers and vice versa. iContact (email marketing from Vocus) gives you all the tools you need to drive email subscriptions via social media as well as socializing your email marketing messages via sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. To maximize the subscribers sharing your email marketing content, make sure you produce great content.
4. Collect contact details offline: Brick and mortar retail outlets and tradeshows represent an amazing opportunity to collect contact details. An online retailer would not let a customer make a purchase and walk away without providing their email address – so why should a traditional retail operation? You’ll need to train your staff to take down the details correctly. Don’t forget to incentivize people to surrender this information.
5. Build new list segments to find new value: I like to encourage email marketers to keep their messages short and to the point. Any secondary offers should be simple links, so as not to distract from the main purpose of the campaign which should be targeted and relevant. For example, if a fashion retailer has previously sold women’s fashion to a customer they should target that customer with similar products. However, if they click on an alternative offer (for example children’s fashion) – this can be tracked with your email marketing software and their name added to another list. This will mean that they receive more marketing emails from you, but you can be happy in the knowledge that all campaigns will be permission-based and relevant.
John is the author of Becoming THE Expert: Enhancing Your Business Reputation through Thought Leadership Marketing, which is available as an e-book here.
Image: Roy Montgomery