Best Practices for E-Mail Opt-In?

A key aspect of any email program is the opt-in (registration) process. Experts debate what information should be captured during this process and how it should be used. The latest trend: Use profile centers to allow customers to opt in to the content they want to receive. That content is sent. No more, no less.

Great idea? I’m not so sure. Readers don’t always know what they’re missing. Relevancy is a moving target that can’t be predicted.

Imagine This

It’s Tuesday and you just got out of your weekly staff meeting. Your boss wants you to provide a POV on how wireless marketing will affect the business over the next two years. Problem is, the POV is due in a week. You don’t have the slightest clue what to say.

Your first step is to go to the Internet. You hurriedly opt in to trusted brands and experts in the space. Lots of free research and white papers are waiting behind these registration forms and email opt-ins. You become a wireless expert. You open, click on, and read everything you receive. Your POV is done and ready to be turned in, when your boss pops in: “Looks like a change in focus. It’s RSS now.”

AARGGH! Back to the email registrations to become an RSS expert.

This change in perceived relevancy is equally applicable in our personal lives. Look at the person planning a tropical vacation. She switches to a ski-related destination at the last minute. As soon as she decides to switch, the best tropical vacation email content in the world simply goes unread.

Multiple Options

What’s the answer? Rely on clients to change their preferences? Send unwanted content mixed with desired content? Ask poll questions inside the email? Or maybe devise propensity models to predict reader interests based on profile information?

I solicited some marketers for their advice on how they currently address this dilemma. Many looked at me as if I had six heads, but a few provided great insights. Here are some of the results:

  • Financial services. “We put three small partner ads in our emails every month and sell them as benefits of being email recipients. Every quarter, we track which types of offers do best and retain those while we test new partner offers. We don’t personalize offers by customer, though.”

  • Telecommunications. “We add in a section on one of our emails that’s promoted as ‘new offers.’ If people click on those, we send an opt-in email invitation for that group’s emails. It works well for us.”
  • B2B high technology. “We change the main theme of our messages every month and lead with a story that we choose (kind of like a front-page news ad). This is followed by the customized selections our clients make.”
  • Automotive. “We only send messages based on selected preferences, but every quarter we email the preference selections to our clients to confirm their interests.”
  • Entertainment. “Are you kidding? We don’t ask for content preferences. We send you what we feel is compelling for that time period.”
  • B2B sales. “We tried asking people to opt in to business solutions — and told them how many emails they would get about it — and saw tremendous results in conversions. The problem was, once the deal was closed we didn’t have a structure to cross-sell them.”

What Should You Do?

There isn’t yet enough research to back up any definitive best practice for the email opt-in experience or preference center usage. But look at your opt-in and profiling experience from a different vantage point to ensure it performs as it should.

Three questions to ask:

  • How much and what type of information do you request at opt-in? Is it enough to begin a dialogue with a client or prospect?

  • What strategy do you use to learn about other interests? How will you turn that into increased loyalty or sales?
  • When you realize your reader has stopped responding, how you do to reengage them with your brand?

Even if you don’t review your opt-in process or preference center now, keep an eye on the topic. It’s going to get quite a bit of attention.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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