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How Not to Deal With E-mail List Attrition

  |  April 19, 2010   |  Comments

See how one company tries to grow its list using an e-mail change-of-address and append service and negative option-opt-out, but fails at connecting with quality customers.

E-mail list attrition is a problem; no one wants to see the size of their e-mail audience decrease or even stay stable. Everyone wants growth.

MarketingSherpa recently reported that while 67 percent of marketers are seeing their list sizes increase, the other 33 percent have list quantities that are stable or declining. Of those with declining lists, the average change in list size in the first half of 2009 was more than 10 percent; consumer lists decreased an average of 6 percent, while business lists had a decrease of more than double that (13 percent).

One way to attack declining list sizes is by using an e-mail change-of-address or append service. A number of companies will take your list and either provide updated e-mail addresses for these contacts or find an e-mail address for records that don't currently include one. These services can be useful, but they also have drawbacks, especially when marketers take liberties with how they use them.

Exhibit A: an e-mail I recently received from a company called Grandin Road:

The salutation is friendly enough - "Dear Valued Grandin Road Customer." But I have no recollection of ever buying anything from Grandin Road; the brand name rings no bells with me.

The company goes on to say that it has used an e-mail change-of-address service to make sure it has my preferred e-mail address. This makes it sounds like I had provided Grandin Road an e-mail address and that this is just an update to that. I checked my inbox - I don't have any other e-mail from this company there, not to any of my e-mail addresses.

Even more interesting, the e-mail address it's offering to send e-mail to is a rather obscure one. I used it years ago to sign up for a children's online gaming site (as part of consulting work I did for Hasbro). I still get e-mail messages from that site, but I rarely, if ever, open or click on them. So this wouldn't be considered an "active" e-mail address by many organizations, and if I were using an e-mail change-of-address or append service, I certainly wouldn't want to pay to get this e-mail address.

The next issue is a big one for me as a consumer and as a marketer. Grandin Road is using negative option-opt-out, where silence equals permission. The first bullet tells me that my e-mail address is being added to the list; the second gives me the opportunity to provide a different e-mail address where Grandin Road can reach me. The company is assuming that I want to be on its e-mail list. The option to remove myself from the list is in the footer, in much smaller font.

The end result is this: the Grandin Road list grows overnight, which sounds good. But what is the quality of these names?

  • If this e-mail had been delivered to an old e-mail address that I never check anymore and had no plans to check in the future, I would be on their list - even though I didn't see this e-mail message and wouldn't see future messages.

  • If this e-mail had been filtered as spam and not even delivered to my junk mail folder, the sender most likely would not have been notified - and I would be on their list.

  • If this e-mail had been delivered to my spam folder and I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have had a chance to respond - and I would be on their list.

  • Even though this message got to my inbox, it was sent to one of my tertiary e-mail addresses and put into a folder where there are many messages there that I don't open or read - so I might not have seen it (or future messages from that company) and I would still be on their list.

Grandin Road also missed an opportunity here. Maybe I would be interested in having an e-mail relationship with this company if I knew more about what products or services it offered, what types of e-mail messages I would receive, and how frequently they would be appearing in my inbox. There's none of that here. The company is assuming that I know what it is; which I don't. And I can't believe I'm the only one.

So, will I remove myself from the list? No, but not for the reasons that Grandin Road wants me on its list.

I'm curious as to how Grandin Road will use this negative option-opt-out introduction to try to entice me to become a customer. Will it attempt to overcome this rocky start to our relationship and make it up to me with e-mail content that's relevant, interesting, and not sent too frequently? Or will it be a constant barrage of "buy, buy, buy" that's all about Grandin Road without any thought to my needs? I'll keep you posted...

Until next time,

Jeanne

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.

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