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7 tips for effectively managing email lists

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List management isn't sexy. Most people equate the activity with an annual dental cleaning: necessary, but not exactly fun. And yet a marketer's list is one of the single most valuable things it has, ranking right up there with an unlimited budget and million-dollar ideas. And yet one expert says that marketers aren't thinking about lists enough or are thinking about them in the wrong way. “I think most marketers use the wrong dimensions when building their lists. That is, they acquire names based on demographics, but don't consider things like past purchase history, [or] propensity to respond to different types of offers,” said Shar VanBoskirk, VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. “[They consider] more attitude or behaviorally based dimensions to determine value of a name. Then they end up getting customers who are demographically attractive but don't have any interest in responding to the types of marketing materials they are sending out.” Marketers that want to improve all aspects of their email lists—from growing to managing to segmenting them—can follow these seven tips provided by market and industry leaders: 1) Think cost-per-lead versus flat-rate pricing. In the beginning, when someone rented or bought a list, they paid a specific price for a specific number of records. Soon after, though, marketers realized that email addresses—even more than postal addresses—were often bad or outdated. Still, many kept paying for their lists by the number of addresses. Today, the savviest marketers are moving to a cost-per-lead basis for their email list rentals and purchases, said Yvonne Tocquigny, CEO of digital marketing agency Tocquigny. 2) Use mobile apps as an opt-in tool. As the tablet and smartphone markets continue to heat up, marketers gain a new source for opt-ins: mobile apps. Companies such as Pontiflex are making it possible to put opt-in forms directly into mobile apps, said Bill McCloskey, founder of Only Influencers, a private network for digital influencers. “This lets marketers go after a segment in an app that they are most likely to be using enabling, better targeting opportunities.” 3) Get back to the basics. One of the best places to build your list, said Jeanne S. Jennings, a consultant for Email Marketing Strategy, is your own Web page. However, she said, a large portion of marketers is doing it all wrong. “They're just not using best practices,” she said. You can tell if you're doing a good job by comparing the number of unique visitors to your site with the number of actual opt-ins you're getting.” Another important metric: How many abandons you have during the actual opt-in process. Marketers should use a banner or other prominent design feature that's sitting above the fold, she said. In addition, they should clearly articulate the benefit to signing up. “Some people even use bulleted lists within the ad unit,” she said. As for abandonment: The signup page should be free of distractions. Jennings suggested removing all standard navigation and ads. “Keep it free from things that are created to pull people away from a page,” she said. 4) Use Web analytics to segment your lists. If you're lucky enough to have an email list that has grown organically through site signups, you've got usable information right at your fingertips, said Andy Clark, VP-business development at email and marketing automation developer Right On Interactive. “It really helps when you can use site behavior to create and send content as opposed to just going by opens and clicks,” he said. “We find people interacting with the website are the ones who are looking to buy—the enlightened customers.” Clark suggested merging site behavior with information about where users are in the sales funnel. Are they new to your program? Have they purchased before? Once you know these things and what they are looking at, you can score that behavior and create a targeted, triggered campaign that has a higher likelihood of converting those prospects to buyers, he said. 5) Use the phone to stem email list attrition. One of the main reasons that someone leaves a b-to-b list—aside from poor or unrelated content—is that they have moved on from the company or to a new position within the company. Jenny Vance, president of lead-gen company LeadJen, said marketers can use that unresponsive or dead email address to make a connection with whomever took over the position. “When you consider about 95% of [sales call] appointments come through a call, it makes sense on many levels to reach out and ask if, for instance, the company operator knows who took over for an old contact,” she said. You can confirm the name and spelling of the new person's name as well as their email address and phone number. Then, you can send out a message inviting them to join your list. If you get the new person on the phone, you can have them opt in to your list verbally, Vance said. 6) Consider list append, but be careful. List append, matching customer or prospect names with outside databases to secure email addresses, is a controversial topic, McCloskey said. “It's the most contentious issue on the Only Influencers list,” he said. “Some equate it with the devil, while others use it and think it's wonderful.” Suzanne Shaughnessy, senior account executive at FreshAddress, an email address services company, said list append should be undertaken “conservatively and cautiously.” She said the best append targets are those who have already done business with your company but haven't provided an email address. “With b-to-b, we see much higher open rates, click-through and order rates [with those appended customers] than what we see in an existing database,” Shaughnessy said. “We caution against doing append with a prospect database, though.” 7) Don't rule out purchased lists. Marketing 101 might caution against buying lists, but it's not so black and white anymore, said Colleen Kazemi, director-digital and email services at marketing software provider Aprimo. It can work, she said, as long as marketers come up with a list of questions for themselves and the list companies they are looking to work with. “First, marketers need to define what their needs are for the purchase—what the target looks like,” Kazemi said. “Then ask vendors the following: How often do you refresh lists? How do you verify contacts and titles? How did you acquire the names on the list—are they opted in and by what method? How often is the list sold, and what are its click-through, delivery and bounce rates?” Other questions to include are is the vendor consistently removing opt-outs, bounces and spam, and whether the list is vetted for spam traps.
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