Appending Email to Snail Mail Addresses

One of the biggest challenges facing us email marketers is finding responsive opt-in email addresses. As we all know, acquisition through email is becoming increasingly harder. Getting your current customers to give you an email address can cost as much as acquiring new customers if you have to use direct mail to drive them to a form or to the telephone to supply the information. Even if they do provide it over the telephone, data entry errors happen all the time.

There are many ways to grow your email list — referral campaigns, cost-per-action (CPA) deals, banner ads, keyword buys on search engines, and so on, but these are mostly acquisition methods. Your most responsive email recipients will be your own customers.

As I mentioned two weeks ago, there are services out there that can take a postal address and match it against an opt-in email address. The match rates average between 25 and 35 percent on the low end if you are matching against a large enough external source for those email addresses.

Here is how it works. You provide a list of street addresses for which you want to append email. The service provider merges your list with its list (the big companies have over 100 million records from compiled sources). Keep in mind that these are records of folks who have said, “Yes! I’m interested in receiving promotions and offers via email.”

When a name and address from your list matches a name and address on the provider’s list for which there’s also an email address, that email address is appended to your file. Upon finding a match, an introductory message is sent to the customer to opt her into your list. Depending on your business rules, she either doesn’t opt out or must opt in, which creates permission for you to use that email address in the future. You are provided a list at the end of the cycle with all the opted-in names and newly appended email addresses.

Imagine — gaining 25,000 new email addresses in a few short weeks by running this service on 100,000 of your existing customers! The return rate, as always, will be directly related to how strong your explanation of the marketing relationship is (how well you know that customer) and, more importantly, how strong your incentive is. These are your customers, so think about why they are buying or have bought from you in the past and reinforce that core message with some incentive — savings that have meaning, such as a free trial or something you’ve added to your Web site they have been asking for. Make it valuable to them.

There are some things you need to consider. The biggest categories I’ve determined so far have to do with, as you might guess, permission on those new email addresses you are pulling into your email marketing efforts. Consider the following issues and make sure that you are doing what makes sense for your business:

  • Your company’s policies should be considered first and foremost with regard to opt-in versus opt-out email. If you don’t have clear permission policies, start there. This is a marketing versus operations/IT issue that can make you very unpopular. Communicate with the people who will end up on the front lines of customer complaints — either your service department or the spam complaint channels.
  • Depending on minimum charges (which are usually based upon output), this service may not be worth the return on lists smaller than 100,000.
  • What is the source of the email addresses you are appending? Are they fully opted-in addresses from a third party? Check this out. Your chances of people accepting email from you are much greater if the email is really and truly from lists that requested permission when the information was gathered. You will have fewer flames to deal with.
  • Does the service bureau send the first message? The references I list below all do.
  • Flames! Let’s face it: When that message goes out, some people will be perturbed (to say the least). Find out how your service bureau handles such complaints, or have them forwarded to you. If they come to you, develop a plan for appeasing the situation. Make it as great an offer as you can. As we’ve discussed before, spam can be a nasty subject. Those squeaky wheels can get very loud if they aren’t greased!
  • Consider how long the customer has to opt out before you get the list. If you chose the opt-out route with these messages, make certain that an appropriate amount of time elapses between the first send and when you get your list back. If the cycle is too fast, you will have opt-outs in your opt-in list. Many consumers have accounts that are strictly personal or used for opt-in mail. Some are not checked more than once a week, or even less often.
  • Check with your email or Internet service provider regarding its rules for email marketing permissions. If it is strict on opt-in, you need to make sure everything is on the table about your efforts when you start using the list to market through its servers. There is no way to hide from spam complaints. Your provider will hear about them, and you can create big problems for yourself if you break their policies. Talk about the issue upfront.

Finally, here are a few companies that do this work. I’m certain there are more — and no doubt I’ll hear from many of them in the coming week!

That about wraps it up for me. Hope you all have fun thinking about all the opportunity this service offers. We are very excited about it and find that prospects and existing customers are looking forward to growing their lists through these services.

Have a great week! — Jackie G.

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