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Are opt-in lists worth the extra money?

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When it comes to “opt-in” e-mail lists, things can get confusing pretty quick.

A true opt-in list is one created by your company with subjects who specifically invited e-mails from your company. But b-to-b list vendors frequently advertise “opt-in” lists that are targeted at your market category or product mix and are designed to yield better results. In some cases, these lists may contain records that were obtained by your competitors—or records that your competitors may have already targeted if they have access to the same list database.

This less-than-ideal scenario raises a good question: Do these more expensive opt-in lists really yield any benefit in the sometimes small world of b-to-b e-mail marketing or are third-party opt-in lists little more than a marketing distinction used by list vendors?

“Opt-in lists are definitely more valuable than general lists,” said Christine Crandell, senior VP-marketing for Accept Software Corp. in Fremont, Calif. “Having said that, just because the list is opt-in doesn’t necessarily mean the list members will be interested in the product being offered.”

That sentiment was echoed by Peter Burke, CEO of Mavington Group in Wayne, Pa.

“I understand the premise of opt-in lists, but I don’t really see how they apply in executive contacts,” Burke said, adding that he rarely uses opt-in lists in his company’s marketing efforts.

So beyond their greater perceived value, if the feeling is that opt-in lists may not increase leads, what’s the point of using them?

This is where price comes in, said Jeffrey Roach, advertising operations director at eLink Media in West Palm Beach, Fla.

“I find there to be a mixed opinion from my clients on whether site- and product-specific lists are more effective than general opt-in lists,” Roach said. “Price is a huge factor, in that opinion.”

In Roach’s view, the ultimate value of a list isn’t whether it’s opt-in or not, but the return on investment the list yields during a campaign. Naturally, because opt-in lists are more expensive, they have to yield better business results.

“This game is about ROI, and if you’re priced out of your metrics, does it really matter where the list came from?” Roach said.

They key to extracting value from opt-in lists (or any lists), Crandell said, is to do your homework: Make sure the list matches the campaign, including its price.

“Marketing needs to carefully match list profiles, demographic and psychographic, with the desired target audience,” Crandell said. “A good match and a credible opt-in list are an essential foundation for productive marketing campaigns. As we implement our marketing plans, we may secure additional opt-in lists for campaigns that are targeted to a different audience, industry or geography than what is addressed by our marketing database.”

Opt-in lists have one additional benefit: E-mails generated from an opt-in list are less likely to trigger spam filters and result in your e-mail being blocked.

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