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List Retention: A Tough Battle

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Several factors determine the success of an e-mail marketing campaign, but a clean, current list of recipients who are receptive to your messages is among the most important. Unfortunately, having such a list is many marketers' biggest challenge, according to a recent JupiterResearch survey commissioned by e-mail service provider Silverpop. The online survey, conducted in June, polled 300 e-mail marketers about the challenges they face and the assistance they seek from e-mail service providers. Thirty-nine percent of the respondents said list turnover is their biggest challenge.

Getting people to become part of your list tends to be easier than keeping them on your list, said Bill Nussey, president-CEO of Silverpop. "They'll envision a wonderful set of promotions and newsletter information, and then in fact a lot of folks are disappointed that they're just getting untargeted, irrelevant sales pitches in some cases," he said.

Recipients who really want to get off your list will unsubscribe, but more often, those who are uninterested will just quit reading your messages or put them in their spam folder, he said.

List management is especially challenging for b-to-b marketers, said Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services at EmailLabs, a provider of e-mail marketing solutions. B-to-c marketers sending to e-mail addresses at the major ISPs—such as Yahoo and AOL—get feedback loops from those ISPs when a consumer labels a message spam. But b-to-b marketers sending e-mail to corporate gateways have no such feedback, he said.

"So if someone at the corporation uses Outlook to mark your message as spam and starts writing it to the junk folder, you as the b-to-b marketer have no knowledge of this," he said.

However, b-to-b marketers can still do a good job of monitoring their bounce logs and removing invalid addresses from their list, Pollard said.

Another factor making list management more difficult for b-to-b marketers is that compared with b-to-c marketers, more of them handle their e-mail marketing programs in-house, said Julie Katz, a researcher at Forrester Research. "Managing opt-outs, managing bounces—all these things that the marketer would have to do in-house ... an outsourcer could help with easily," she said. "It's just part of their business of helping get e-mails delivered and helping marketers clean up their lists."

To make managing their lists easier, marketers should pay close attention to the ways in which they build those lists in the first place.

The best way to grow a list, Nussey said, is with permission. "You get the attention of the folks that you want to reach with, say, an ad banner or search engine and bring them to your Web site; and, through the quality of your Web site, you convince them there's value in the relationship for their opt-in," he said.

One of the simplest and most powerful changes marketers can make is to place that opt-in on their home page, he said. "It's free, and it'll do more for you in many cases than all the appends and viral marketing you could possibly do," he said.

Bosch Rexroth Corp., a provider of drive and control technologies used in industrial automation, has had success in building its list by driving people to its Web site, said Joe Biondo, e-business manager at Bosch Rexroth.

When the company is marketing at a trade show, for instance, its booth features kiosks connected to its Web site, where visitors can sign up for its educational newsletters. "They know what they're getting themselves into," he said, referring to the fact that visitors are opting to hear from the company and selecting which newsletters they'd like to receive. "That coupled with the content not being overly promotional, leads us to people staying signed up. They don't typically unsubscribe." Bosch Rexroth's opt-out rate is 0.2%, he said.

Katz said marketers should use all the channels available to them to connect with a potential recipient. "Say somebody visits their Web site; use that as a vehicle to capture an e-mail address. Somebody calls into their phone system and talks to a sales rep; use that as a vehicle to capture e-mail addresses. Somebody goes to a conference they hold; use that as a vehicle to capture an e-mail address," she said. "All of those things together will give b-to-b marketers a more robust list of people to send their e-mail marketing messages to."

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