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Building an Opt-In E-Mail List

  |  April 25, 2005   |  Comments

Looking to build an e-mail list from scratch? Want better list growth? A few tips on building an opt-in e-mail list.

If you’re lucky enough to have a robust house list that grows significantly each month, good for you. If you’re looking to build a list from scratch or would like better list growth, here are a few tips gleaned from recent client work.

Start by developing an acquisition marketing plan, basically, a blueprint for how you’ll find, approach, and sell your target audience on giving you their email addresses. As with any marketing plan, you want the quantitative, such as the number of new email addresses to add each month, as well as the qualitative, including where you’ll find these people.

This is especially important if you’re building a list from scratch. Start the acquisition process before you publish your first email; there’s no sense creating an email newsletter (or other type of email communication) if there’s no one to send it to. If you’re already publishing, don’t be deterred. Put a formal plan in place and work to implement it. Building a list is an ongoing project.

The more the person writing the plan knows about your target audience, the better the plan will be. First, decide whom you want to reach. Include an overview of all existing touch points (online and off-) with customers and prospects. Also determine how much you can afford to spend to get an email address.

Next, what type of content will your email provide? If you’re doing email marketing, obviously there’ll be some type of promotion involved. To engage recipients, you content that offers readers value. With a content plan, you can further identify recipient benefits and hone where to reach interested readers.

Third, look at what competitors are doing online, specifically, how they gather email addresses. This may directly lead to some acquisition resources. Better, it allows you to see what types of tactics work for others.

Finally, identify specific tactics to build an opt-in list. Included may be:

  • Leverage existing touch points to get the opt-in for email.

  • Identify specific Web sites, email newsletters, search engines, and other online spaces where a banner, co-registration, or other mechanism will help reach the target market.

  • Brainstorm offline ways to grow the opt-in email list.

One topic that always arises when I talk email acquisition is appending. Appending is the process of taking your existing customer list and "matching" email addresses to it from a larger database. There are two flavors of permission-based append:

  • Negative option opt-out. This is the more common approach. The vendor handling the match sends an email to the matched email addresses, asking recipients to respond if they don’t want to receive email from your organization. Good news: opt-outs are usually very low. Bad news: these email addresses are often non-responsive. So you get the email addresses (great if you’re compensated on growth) but not necessarily the response (bad if you’re compensated on results).

  • Explicit opt-in. Either the match vendor or your organization sends one or more email messages asking recipients to respond if they want to receive email from you. This is true opt-in. Good news: these email addresses have shown to respond on par with other opt-in names. Bad news: I usually estimate a 25 percent response rate, max. You’ll have a smaller list, but a more engaged readership will read and respond to your email.

If you must append, get an explicit opt-in. A negative option opt-out may be enticing, but if you want results, this isn’t the shortcut it may seem.

When initiating plan, start with the quantitative: how many email addresses you want to acquire each month. Then, look at the qualitative piece. It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack, figuring out what types of venues your target audience hangs out in and how much it would cost to get a presence there to invite them to opt in to your email.

Give it a try and let me know how it works!



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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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