Finding new ways to maximize your list

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Ask three experts how many times you can e-mail to the same list and you're likely to get three answers.

"The tricky thing about an acquired list is that it's basically a one-shot deal," said Anthony Schneider, president of Mass Transmit in New York. "You get one chance at a new user's inbox, so your deliverability, relevance, content, benefit—everything—has to be really good."

Not so fast, said Tom Blue, CEO and founder of Lead411 in Los Angeles. "We recommend three times for a list," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. Your e-mail might get stuck in spam; it might get deleted. So we recommend you e-mail at different times of day on different days."

Mark Reyna, managing partner of Rainmaker Partners in Lowell, Mass., goes one step further: "We've done some campaigns for large corporations with millions of names on the list where we hit the list weekly for years, and we were still getting a good conversion rate."

The variety of answers from three experts exposes an important truth when it comes to direct marketing: Hard and fast rules are hard to come by. In fact, the number of times you can mail to any particular list depends on a number of factors, including the scope of the campaign, the quality of the list, the nature of the deliverable and even the nature of your product.

"In a campaign that's narrowly focused on CFOs of midsize software companies, for example, the best approach might be a newsletter where you position yourself as an expert," Reyna said. "Assuming you have good content, you can send it every couple of weeks."

This approach, however, is among the most expensive in e-mail marketing, as a flow of relevant, high-quality content is difficult to maintain and requires an editorial team.

"It's all about ROI," Schneider said. "There can be a good reason to do an initial e-mail, then follow up with a special offer or other mechanism. However, each pass is costly. But if the ROI supports it, I could definitely see going back to a good list with a targeted follow-up."

One way to measure a good list is to watch the opt-outs and, if possible, the conversion rates of leads to sales. If the opt-out rate starts to rise, or the conversion rate drops, then the list may be degraded.

Blue pointed out another long-term benefit to marketing to the same list repeatedly, provided these rates hold steady: name recognition. Many b-to-b sales are for relatively large-ticket items, so it's unlikely a CFO will convert to a sale worth tens of thousands of dollars after a single e-mail. Instead, a sustained campaign of high-quality content will raise your brand awareness in the marketplace.

"You have to get your name out there," Blue said. "If they see your name on an e-mail and, a month later, they're looking to buy, there's a better chance they'll remember your company."

This means the frequency of mailings somewhat depends on the price of the product, Reyna said. "A lot of it comes down to selling price," he said. "As the price scales higher, you need to take a more intellectual approach. People don't buy a $100,000 software application every month but, if you do things well, when it's budget time next year, you'll be on the short list."

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