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Question: Is it wise to append e-mail data?

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Answer: Maybe. Our experience is that data you collect from eager customers are always far better than data that you buy, because voluntary information is more reliable, more accurate and more current. Plus, it has the "stamp of approval" of the participant. It may also be cheaper, even factoring in the cost of any incentives or promotions.

So, we would first recommend that you focus on maximizing your e-mail capture efforts across all your marketing activities. Make e-mail sign-up prominent on your site, put calls to action in direct mail pieces and piggyback onto transaction e-mail messages.

While you pull all the levers to grow your list organically, append can be a good way to quickly build your list with people who have, at some point, contacted you or been a customer. You must be careful, however, because append can raise serious permission issues.

The most important component to making append work is a good vendor. You want to feel comfortable with their collection techniques, matching integrity and processes, update cycles and validation of append requests. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, so you’ll pay more money for more detailed—and higher quality—information. And data get old very quickly. So, if you do spend the money to gather such information, it’s to your advantage to use it quickly before e-mail addresses change and other data become obsolete.

Further, as with any new list, it’s always a good idea to send a welcome message—in addition to the validation your data house does—that lets customers know why they turned up on your list and clearly demonstrates why they’ll want to remain on the list. Some sort of incentive or coupon might also be helpful.

Finally, the rule that applies to all e-mail marketing activities applies even more to append: test, test and test again. Send to a small percentage of people to gauge interest—or anger level—before you blast every past purchaser.

The bottom line is to take care when appending data and be sure you don’t violate any agreements that you have with your customers. And work only with top-tier, high-quality data vendors.

Tami Monahan Forman is director, strategic services at Return Path, (www.returnpath.biz), an e-mail performance company that provides deliverability, list quality and strategic solutions for marketers.

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