Lost mail in cyberspace

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With hundreds of billions of e-mails being sent every day and spam filters growing more and more sophisticated, it can be easy for your very important e-mail to get lost in the shuffle, particularly if your recipient is also receiving a slew of other e-mails from your organization.

The low price of sending e-mail, along with the ease of producing such messages, has led to a glut of e-mails sent forth each day across the b-to-b publishing landscape. Unfortunately, this has led to list erosion, a problem that audience developers are battling.

“E-mail list erosion is a serious concern to everyone,” said Gloria Adams, senior VP-audience development and book publishing at PennWell Publishing. She noted that it isn't just a problem from people opting out of existing e-newsletters and content, but also in the decline of response rates in general.

Bobit Business Media is “very concerned about attrition” to its e-mail lists, according to Desiree Bennett Forsyth, senior audience marketing manager. To address it, the company created a task force to analyze its e-mail from different viewpoints: deliverability, open rates, clicks, etc. Once analyzed, recommendations will be made to improve different statistics.

“We're making some changes to the way we collect e-mail addresses—in some instances going from an opt-out to a strictly opt-in, for example, realizing we will have a lower but much more engaged audience there,” Bennett Forsyth said.

Kim Clothier, director of circulation at the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, said that her company currently doesn't have any corporate policy and the e-mail list is wide open to all its entities. “Other than our trade show, all of our other entities have dropped all direct mail and gone total e-mail,” she said. “E-mail costs them nothing for the names and less than $8 per thousand to deploy the e-blast, so it's extremely cheaper for them.”

However, Clothier said, when people bail because they're getting inundated with e-mail, she has to replace a name. “That's a direct hit to my budget,” she said. So she's proposing a way to start recouping that with a nominal in-house list rental fee upfront. “Building and maintaining the e-mail list is beneficial to all of us, so I'd like to see everyone start sharing in that investment,” she said.

PennWell has put limits on the number of times any event or product can e-mail a list. “We charge [internal] mailers for all opt-outs above a certain threshold,” she said. “We continually battle the sales staff, who want more with the overall viability of our entire database.” Adams said that PennWell is examining response rates and opt-outs to total number of e-mails each individual receives to try and come up with a maximum number of e-mails anyone should receive in a month.

Bobit is analyzing the number of “non-opens” in the past six months in an attempt to figure out how to get those customers re- engaged. The company has the added challenge of not working with an integrated database, so it is also focusing on ensuring data are accurate and shared across all of its databases. “If we're collecting e-mail addresses for a lead-gen, we're making sure to close the loop by appending that e-mail address to the subscription file and vice versa,” Bennett Forsyth said.

At McGraw-Hill Cos., VP-Business Services Maurice Persiani said as long as editorial quality is high, list erosion should not be a huge problem. “If the content is compelling, it will be passed along and the viral impact will regularly contribute replacement names,” he said. However, his e-newsletters lose subscribers, too. “We have a policy of eliminating recipients who do not open our newsletters after three months and replacing them with new names from other databases.”

Bennett Forsyth said audience developers should avoid panic when faced with a drop in e-mail. “If you look beyond the gross numbers, are your open and click through rates solid?” she said. “If not, there is more to worry about than number erosion."

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