Partner Insights: Tips to Build Your House File

Each month in our continuing Partner Insights series, we ask several email industry experts to weigh in on timely topics vexing email marketers today. In this issue, we ask our panelists for their tips for safely building your house file.

Our contributors this month are:

FP (FreshPerspectives): Ross, what advice would you give email marketers seeking to build their house files?

Ross: The success of every single email campaign depends on the quality of subscribers on the list. But, with that being said, email marketers are still under pressure to grow their lists year after year. We’ve seen amazing results with two acquisition tactics in particular – modal acquisition and sweepstakes.

  1. Modal Acquisition is a simple yet incredibly effective way to obtain new subscribers; we’ve seen lists increase up to 30 times with this strategy! When customers visit your website, a popup window appears while the page slightly fades. The popup invites customers to subscribe to your email list and upon opt-in, automatically triggers a welcome email series. This Modal Acquisition tactic can also include offers to entice more site visitors to subscribe to your list – e.g. free item, 10% off, etc. Visitors who aren’t interested can close the window. Modal Acquisition can also include rules for when to display again, for those site visitors who don’t subscribe so it’s not an annoyance every time they visit your site. While customers can easily minimize the window without subscribing, the majority of visitors will sign up. SmileyCookie.com increased its list size by 54% within a matter of weeks with this method.
  2. Sweepstakes is another organic list growth strategy that has proven success. It’s a simple approach, yet it can be tricky to execute successfully. We’ve found that sweepstakes attract the right subscribers when the prize is your own merchandise. That way, you’re ensuring that new subscribers are interested in your brand and product offering, not just winning a cash prize, and that they’ll most likely remain active subscribers on your list after the contest ends. Some best practices for a successful sweepstakes is to promote the sweepstakes via email to your subscribers a few times throughout the contest and include a viral component by offering additional entries for forwarding the contest info to friends. You also need to engage these new subscribers with a thoughtful welcome series to get them engaged with your brand and closely monitor new subscribers for engagement and churn. Sweeps is a great way to grow your lists quickly while keeping engagement levels high – Waterford Wedgewood Royal Doulton grew its list 11% with one Sweepstakes that ran 6 weeks.

With average subscriber churn rate at 30% annually, Modal Acquisition and sweepstakes strategies will not only help your lists grow, but will also help you acquire the right subscribers who are active and interested.

FP: Brenna, what suggestions would you give to marketers on this issue?

Brenna: Building your email house file is extremely important, just as important as prospecting to your direct mail counterparts. But it can be tricky. While I recommend creating an eFile growth plan that includes both paid and earned media, you need to always think first and foremost about the quality of your data and the expectations your “ask” carries with it for potential subscribers.

Here are my top 5 tips for building a clean and well-engaged email file:

1. Opt-in. Always.

  • Email rental/purchasing: Never purchase an email list as its quality will be poor and will most likely contain spamtraps and other problematic addresses that could bring down the rest of your email program – there certainly are shady practices happening in what is still in many ways the Wild West of the World Wide Web. As for email list rentals, be sure to work with an ethical provider that keeps its opt-in lists as clean and fresh as possible. To ensure you stay on the good side of all the Internet “powers that be,” only email supporters who have opted in to hear from you.

2. Double opt-in if your CMS/CRM lets you set up your signups that way.

  • You will sacrifice quantity, but you will ensure better quality from your supporter signups. By asking signups to click a link in your email confirmation follow up to confirm their opt-in, you engage them in an easy 2nd action that verifies that they are indeed interested in hearing what you have to say – and that they didn’t accidentally type in the wrong email, OR, heaven forbid, give you a fake email just to get the free “whatever” you were offering at the time.
  • Typos happen. But when they don’t see that confirmation email in their inbox that they were expecting to click through and they are motivated enough to come back and sign up again or contact you to see what went wrong, you know you have someone worth talking to. Better yet, utilize a real-time email address hygiene and correction service that will correct these typos right at the point of registration.

3. Use an automated/triggered welcome series.

  • The more timely and relevant your emails, the more likely subscribers are to recognize you, remember that they signed up, and Whitelist you – all vital elements to successful email marketing down the road. Through the use of timed triggers and conditional content, you can personalize the series to their preferences and ensure their mindshare and, ultimately, that coveted share of wallet. A well-crafted welcome/conversion series not only welcomes the subscriber, acknowledging where/how they joined the list, but expertly guides them up the ladder of engagement through each “ask” in the daisy chain.

4. eFile Hygiene is a must.

  • Both opt-in only and the double opt-in process help you build a clean file, but we still recommend that you clean your file every three to six months. Emails “go bad” faster than any other type of personal information. You wouldn’t mail your house file without running an NCOA at least once a year right? Why would you assume that something as easy to get as an email address would be more stable than a postal address? Up to 30% of email addresses change EVERY YEAR. Update those emails with an email change of address confirmation match (or in shorthand: ECOA).

5. Create a CNR (Chronic Non-responders) track.

  • Along with your regular ECOA, it can be helpful to create a messaging track specifically for those who aren’t responding to your emails in the way that you’d like. Think of this as the flipside of a welcome series – your chronic non-responders should be given emails and offers that jolt them out of their complacency and make them metaphorically stand up and take notice of your messaging. They should be offered easy ways to get back involved – they did sign-up for a reason, right? – and they should be offered easy ways to unsubscribe. You don’t want people on your eFile that don’t want to be there, so give them the opportunity to self-select off your list. For those that continue to be inactive even after your win-back campaign, add these to your bounce files for ECOA.

6. BONUS tip for a happy file: Make opting out easy

  • Unsubscribing should be easy to do and easy to find on your emails and on your website. While we do not recommend a one click process, make it simple for supporters to opt-out and then take advantage of what could be your last opportunity to engage with them and ASK them why they are unsubscribing. A couple of quick multiple choice questions, a chance to change their email preferences for timing and content, and a more comments field will give you miles of insight on how to manage your list better and craft communications that supporters want to receive and look forward to reading.

FP: Can you provide our readers with additional perspective on this, Mary Ann?

Mary Ann: It is critical to keep email address information updated for your current customers, inquiries etc. It is also recommended that you develop a program to help engage this key audience (e.g. through newsletters, special offers, etc.) so that they feel they continually are receiving value.

Email address acquisition is comprised of three key components:

  1. Acquiring emails from proven sources (e.g. website, social, offline, third parties, etc.) while testing other sources to expand your marketable database. If possible, it helps to identify sources that contain prospects with demographic or behavioral profiles similar to those of your most valuable customers.
  2. Ensuring the back-end technology is in place to capture the email address, profile data, date and source of opt-in, and any other key data points.
  3. Devising an integrated contact strategy to a) welcome these new subscribers based on email capture sources and other profile information, and b) nurture the relationship as they move through your lifecycle.

The best approach for expanding the acquisition portion of your program is to conduct a touch-point analysis. This involves taking a fresh look at all of the interaction points that your brand has with your prospects and customers to ensure these are optimized for email capture. It’s also important to identify additional online and offline opportunities to capture email addresses and to review where they are being captured. Often the current approach isn’t optimized based on visibility or clarity of sign-up.

Frequently overlooked opportunities for email capture include Facebook, Twitter, your mobile program, and even your current email program itself. A simple link at the bottom of an email stating, “Want to sign up for our email program? Click here,” can generate registrations from recipients of forwarded messages.

FP: Thank you, panelists, for your valuable contributions. We appreciate you sharing your expertise with our readers. We’d like to underscore the importance of list cleaning, validation, and correction in the list building process. With the vast majority of deliverability issues stemming from hygiene problems with the underlying list, bouncing, inactive, or toxic addresses can be the bane of any email database. Quality, rather than quantity, should be the focus of any list building effort.

Many thanks, again, to Ross, Brenna, and Mary Ann. Until next time!

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