’A’ Is for Append

The buzz around appending as an email marketing optimization tool has increased since E-mail Address Appending Best Practices for Marketers was released last month by the Association for Interactive Marketing’s Council for Responsible E-mail (whew, that’s a mouthful!). In fact, more than one vendor approached me at the ClickZ email conference last month, to ask me to recommend their appending services to my consulting clients.

Here’s the rub: I’m not a fan of appending.

For the record, I’m not taking direct issue with the CRE’s best practices. If appending must exist, then by all means anyone doing it should, at minimum, comply with these guidelines.

That said, I’ve seen too many companies view appending as the be-all and end-all for developing a house list. They, and others, experience negative side effects of appending. Following is a definition of appending (from the CRE report) along with some issues to keep in mind if you’re considering appending email addresses. At the end are some best practices based on my own experiences.

Definition of email address appending: E-mail address appending is the process of adding an individual’s email address to that individual’s record inside a marketer’s existing database. This is accomplished by matching the marketer’s database against a third-party, permission-based database to produce a corresponding email address.

Issues to Keep in Mind

No. 1: Appending is not an ongoing email list acquisition strategy.

Email appending is not a long-term strategy. It’s a one-shot deal. If you don’t have a plan in place to continue to grow the list, it will steadily decline due to bounces and unsubscribes. I’ve worked with a number of clients frustrated by erosion in their appended lists. There’s no way around this. You must integrate getting customers’ and prospects’ email addresses into everything you do, on- and offline, to develop a healthy and effective house list that grows month after month.

No. 2: Appending is not a 100 percent solution.

Most vendors I’ve spoken with quote match rates of 30 to 40 percent — which still leaves you without email addresses for 60 to 70 percent of your list. Companies that concentrate acquisition efforts on appending are not optimizing their email lists. An ongoing opt-in acquisition strategy will help you gather these additional addresses.

No. 3: Appending increases the risk of your email being perceived as spam.

Spam is in the eye of the beholder (OK, the recipient). To just start sending email to someone who hasn’t explicitly opted in (even if she is a customer) is to put your organization at risk. Once a customer or prospect perceives you’re spamming, you’ll be hard-pressed to change her mind. I’ve worked places where the standard response to accusations of spam is a message saying “Based on industry guidelines, we are not spamming you.” This rarely calms a disgruntled customer. She doesn’t care about industry guidelines. The damage is done: to your company’s reputation, to your relationship with those customers, and possibly to your email initiatives in the form of blacklisting.

No. 4: Appending could jeopardize future email initiatives.

In addition to your relationship with customers, appending can also damage your relationship with vendors. A reputable email fulfillment house noticed an increase in spam complaints in one of my clients’ lists and contacted the company. Turns out, the lists had a high number of newly appended names (done before I started working with the client). The fulfillment house, concerned about being blacklisted and having operations disrupted (not to mention its reputation sullied) refused to handle sends on any future lists with appended names. The client was asked to either find another fulfillment house (where the same issue might arise) or stop appending. It stopped appending.

Best Practices: Avoiding the Downsides of Appending

  • Don’t neglect an ongoing acquisition strategy. Integrate email acquisition into all your customer and prospect touch points. Offer something of value (an email newsletter, a special report, special access to Web site content) in return for their email addresses. An article I wrote for the Software and Information Industry Association suggests ways to accomplish this. It’s written for publishers, but many of the ideas are effective in other industries.

  • Don’t forget there are other ways to acquire email addresses. Many companies market appending as a no-brainer. Not quite. Take into consideration how many email addresses you may get from appending, how reputable the vendor offering the appending service is, and what the potential risks are (accusations of spam). Appending is a shortcut. Many organizations (ClickZ is a great example) have built large, effective house lists without it. It can be done, and it’s not nearly as expensive as most people think. Since you need a long-term acquisition strategy anyway, why not use it to build your list instead of appending?
  • Do get a explicit opt-in. Some maintain opt-in negates the purpose of appending. It probably will decrease the number of addresses you end up using from the append, but the result will be a higher quality list of people who want to get your email. They’re more likely to open and read your messages, which is the goal. While you’re on shaky ground by sending that first message requesting an opt-in (they may think you’re spamming), once you get permission your risk of being mistaken for a spammer is much smaller.

The Bottom Line

One vendor I spoke with at the ClickZ conference kept telling me I just didn’t understand appending. Maybe not. With a backlash against unsolicited email, why wouldn’t you get opt-in permission, especially if you’re looking to build long-term relationships?

Well-planned, opt-in acquisition campaigns are always good business. If you’re doing one of those, I’m more than happy to help. Providing recommendations on appending? I’m not your girl.


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$129 PDF

Author and e-business expert Alexis Gutzman undertook the complex process of starting and publishing an email newsletter and details her experience in this briefing. “Publishing Your Own Newsletter” originated as a multipart series on internet.com. This briefing is a compilation of Gutzman’s essential writings about the email newsletter publishing process. Along with tips, tricks, and advice on what works best and what pitfalls to watch for, this ClickZ Guide includes product evaluations, code for capturing user information, and sound advice on user privacy concerns before implementing some of the tools discussed.

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