How can I drive response while protecting my e-mail marketing list?

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Answer: In an opt-in, CAN-SPAM-compliant world, it is imperative that marketers do everything they can to protect their e-mail marketing list asset. And this, in turn, means managing use of the list to minimize opt-out/unsubscribe rates while optimizing response.

In this regard, we find that all too often marketers apply direct mail approaches to e-mail marketing with horrifying results. It is not uncommon for marketers to over-communicate to their list with multiple campaigns and multiple messages in each campaign. Plus, marketers often send only aggressive and highly redundant promotional content. Even worse, in large enterprises, multiple marketers will be doing all of this to the same target audience.

The result is opt-out rates as high as 9% to 30% per mailing. Over the course of a dozen or so mailings, these marketers will burn out two-thirds of their lists—effectively throwing away most of their e-mail list asset.

In contrast, we recommend signing your audience up for a regular monthly communication and infusing that communication (typically an e-newsletter) with content that recipients really want to read. It is entirely possible to achieve opt-out rates of 1% or less using this approach, which means a marketer hangs on to about 90% of its list over the course of a year.

So the question is: How do you drive response using a periodic, content-rich approach to e-mail marketing? Marketers should seek to implement their e-mail messages in layers, with the first layer being the e-mail as received in the recipient's in-box and consisting of content summaries along with links to Web site content reflecting more in-depth information—or even better, to a microsite designed specifically for that e-mail message.

Using this layered approach enables marketers to implement an e-mail campaign effectively within a single message rather than across multiple e-mail messages. The top layer of content should be designed to retain and engage the reader for the long-term, the next layer can be used to tease out product- or service-specific interest, and the deepest layer can be used to present a hard call to action—thereby generating very strong direct response in a manner that does not burn out the list.

David A. Fish is CEO of iMakeNews Inc. (, an e-communications service provider based in Waltham, Mass.

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