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5 ways to improve your e-mail lists

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Desperate times may call for desperate measures. At least that's what marketers may be thinking right about now. There's a measure of truth to that statement, said Julie Katz, an analyst with Forrester Research, especially for e-mail marketers. ¶ “Marketers have stagnated in e-mail marketing because what they are doing has worked,” she said. “They've gotten some pretty good results so they see no need to do anything. But that's a problem because in 2009, we've got recipients who are ignoring e-mail. While there's nothing dramatically new out there, it's time to adopt some practices that vendors have been offering for a while—things that feel new and connect e-mail to the rest of the world.” Here are five tips you can use today to improve your e-mail marketing: 1) Look at purchased lists, but proceed with caution. This is a controversial step as many ESPs explicitly forbid the use of rented lists. In fact, eschewing rented lists is often stated as a e-mail best practice. However, there are some rented lists that can and do work well. “My advice would be to ignore list collectors [such as Equifax, Experian and LexisNexis] and instead utilize specialty lists where there is a captive audience [such as NY Times newsletters],” said Joey Wilson, director of marketing strategy at interactive agency Sapient Corp. Look for lists from trade publications, associations, training companies and trade shows, all of which have engaged, interested readers, said Kevin Mabley, senior VP-strategic services at Epsilon. 2) Build your own list using search. Brian Kline, marketing coordinator with instrument manufacturer Thwing-Albert Instrument Co., revamped his marketing strategy in 2007, moving away from print and trade shows and toward search engine and e-mail marketing. At the time, his internal list contained about 2,000 addresses. Today that list tops the 9,000 address mark, a milestone he attributes to having ThomasNet help him optimize and redesign his Web site. Once the optimization was done, more people came into the site, and Kline made sure there was a very visible, very easy-to-use e-mail signup form when they did. “We started keeping track of how leads came in as of June 2007 and, comparing June 2007 to December 2007 to the same period of time in 2008, customers who came from search increased 60%,” said Kline. That traffic invariably signed up for more information via e-mail from the company, and today its newsletters are both popular and well-read, he said. “Our January newsletter went to 6,500 people. Of those, 25% opened; and of that 25%, 24% clicked through. And between 10 and 15 people came to the site and requested more information. I always see a spike in our Web activity after the newsletter goes out.” 3) Re-examine segmentation. While you are probably segmenting your list by industry, there are other ways to slice and dice a list that can boost relevance. “It's not just about business segmentation,” agreed Robert Schwartz, senior partner and executive director of Ogilvy New York's Digital Dialogue practice. He suggested starting by separating your list into active and inactive addresses, then remarketing to those inactive in a bid to re-engage them since it's much less expensive to hold on to a current customer or prospect than to find a new one. Once you've done that, you can split your lists by company size, company, revenue generated and overall engagement. “You're not going to send the same offer to your best customers as you're sending to someone who only made a single purchase. Your most engaged customers probably won't need the same level of discount to get them to make a purchase as someone who has never purchased before.” When remarketing to quiet leads, look at when they originally contacted you, how they contacted you and how you responded. It's possible your original response didn't give them what they needed. 4) Use current events to add color to and improve relevance of e-mail communications. Dennis O'Brien is president of Coastal Financial Advisors. His company helps businesses with financial, investment and tax services. This past fall, O'Brien started using his e-mail communications to explain what the current financial climate could mean for his prospects and customers. “I've tried to send out more information about the downturn and answer any questions that my customers might have,” he said. Almost any vertical market can do the same by responding to industry and world news with information about how it relates to your product or service—and how that can help your customers. 5) Explore co-marketing options. Co-marketing can be a good compromise for those who are looking for a rented list but don't feel comfortable buying one on their own, said Sean Muzzy, senior partner-media director at digital agency Neo@Ogilvy. Your own partners and customers are a good bet, he said. “It's great when you can weave your content in with their content and show how the combination of companies can help the user,” he said.
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