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Know More About Your E-Mail Subscribers

  |  April 11, 2005   |  Comments

Five ways to get more information from e-mail list members.

Increasingly, companies are going back to their email list members to learn more about them for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Get or confirm opt-in status

  • Gather information for more granular database segmentation

  • Collect additional data for personalization

  • Request additional contact information for other channels

At the initial signup, you don’t want to scare people off, so you only request the information you really need. But after the relationship’s established, it’s smart to go back and request more information.

Will you get a 100 percent response rate? Probably not. But by looking at a list’s historic open rates and click-throughs, you should be able to come up with a response benchmark. With most clients, I shoot for 20 to 25 percent; your results will vary based on your relationship level and the effectiveness of your campaign.

Below, a few tips for getting more information from your email list members.

Sweeten the Pot

Asking subscribers to update their registration information so you can "better meet their needs" is nice. Unless they have a close bond with your organization, it’s usually not enough. You must offer more.

Information exchanges are quid pro quo. What will they get for revealing more about themselves?

The best incentives tie closely into your organization’s products and services. Just don’t offer something with such broad appeal that people outside your target audience will rush to get it.

Instead of an Amazon.com gift certificate, offer a bundle of books that would interest your target audience. Instead of a sweepstakes to win a trip to Mexico, send the winner to an upcoming industry event, all expenses paid. Special reports are another great incentive. Whether delivered via PDF or USPS, people are always looking for information on topics that interest them.

Back Up What You Ask For

One of the primary reasons people don’t provide information is there’s a disconnect between what you offer and what you ask for. A prime example are "free email newsletter" signup pages that require a USPS address or worse, fax and phone numbers.

You don’t need all that information to deliver a newsletter. This message screams, "We’re going to add you to our direct mail and fax lists and pester you until you buy our products." This common mistake often lies at the root of above-average abandon rates during the signup process. That, in turn, hinders list growth.

What if you really want (or need) that USPS address? Find a way to compensate registrants in kind so they’ll provide it.

One client of mine was in this spot. The USPS address was a secondary priority after getting more information on interests, but they still wanted it. We utilized a for-all incentive that was best delivered via postal mail rather than online. Address fields weren’t required, but it was clear we wouldn’t be able to send the incentive if they weren’t filled in.

Use What You’ve Got

If you mail to your list regularly (if you don’t, you should!), make these communications the first phase of an information-gathering campaign.

Campaign creative should stand out from the rest of the email’s content. It shouldn’t look like an HTML ad, as readers often skip those. I’ve had luck with a simple text message placed prominently at or near the top of the message. Be concise and benefit-oriented (what’s in it for the reader?), mention the incentive offered, and include a clear call to action and link.

Include this pitch in multiple communications to ensure all your readers see it and have an opportunity to respond. For dailies, I usually run it at least a week, sometimes two. For weeklies, at least two weeks.

Don’t Stop There

A series of standalone email messages can be effective as a follow-up, or "sweep," phase. The series may catch people who missed the notice in your regular communications. If you’ve got a strong subject line, it may even engage people who are interested in staying in touch but who don’t regularly open your email communications.

Sender and subject lines are key. If you have a recognizable company or brand name, use it in the sender line to bolster the open rate (this is true whether or not your regular email communications are sent from this name). Use the subject line to tout the incentive and benefit to the reader.

At least one message should focus on the incentive’s benefits. I like bullet points, which are concise and easy to skim. If you also offer recipients the chance to update or change their email communication options (e.g., add or remove free email newsletters), talk about their features and benefits in one email. I also like to include a brief "last chance" email, laying out general details, about a week before the campaign ends.

Threaten Only If You Understand the Consequences

Threatening to remove readers from your email list unless they provide additional information may increase your response rate, but be careful. It could also jeopardize the bottom line. If you sell products via email, you probably don’t want to remove a frequent buyer who, for whatever reason, doesn’t comply. The same is true if you generate ad revenue against email on a CPM (define) basis. Removing those who don’t pony up more information about themselves decreases your take on each ad.

I firmly believe in removing deadwood from a list. But I’m also very cautious about it. Don’t get so wrapped up in gathering more information that you forget the big picture. Removing the deadwood is very different from gathering more information about list members.

Try these tips, and let me know how they work!

Best,

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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