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Getting former subscribers to opt in

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By Karen J. Bannan

CAN-Spam is very clear on this point: If someone opts out, that’s it. You can’t market to them again via e-mail unless they opt in again. But that doesn’t mean that customer is gone forever. It is possible to bring them back into the fold. Three experts—Michael Della Penna, CMO of Bigfoot Interactive; Ashley Johnston, director of marketing at CheetahMail, an Experian Co.; and Chip House, VP-privacy and deliverability for ExactTarget—explain how.

  1. Be proactive. Allow subscribers to opt out selectively. "Give them the option to unsubscribe from specific communications rather than a global unsubscribe, which includes all communications," Johnston said. "Marketers often find that subscribers might not be interested in one type of communication but still interested in others." Subscription centers are a great way to do this, Johnston said. Also, don’t forget frequency. Give customers the option of weekly, monthly, quarterly or semiannual communications.
  2. Make the call. Monitor opt-outs and take action as soon as they happen, Della Penna said. Have salespeople call those customers who have opted out within a few days of the unsubscribe. "Send the log file to the salesperson. Let them know X client opted out and ask them to find out what’s going on," he said. "Find out if you can or should be doing something differently. Talk to the customer and have the discussion: ‘What did you think about the newsletter, what can we be doing better?’"
  3. Think outside the in-box. Even though you can’t send invitations to former subscribers via e-mail, you can send direct mail postcards and highlight solicitations on invoices, product brochures and Web sites. "You’re going to want to make that postcard highlight the benefits—why someone would want to come back," Della Penna said. " ‘Sign up and get XYZ, hear about latest product.’ Really target that message to the reasons your customer opted out in the first place."
  4. Don’t forget about the relationship. Although you can’t send marketing messages once someone has opted out, you can send transactional or relationship messages. These can help keep your company at the front of your customer’s mind. "It can be risky, though, so make sure you’re not crossing the line," House said.
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