Calling All Dropouts

Perhaps it’s the dot-com shakeup. Or maybe it’s the time of year. It just seems that lately I’ve heard more and more stories about marketers who tested email and ended up saying, “Nah. Not for me. Doesn’t work for my business model.”

Now I’m not talking about mom-and-pop shops, either. I’m talking about some very large organizations with large budgets and plenty of offline direct marketing experience on the consumer AND B2B sides. Puzzling.

My guess is that these marketers tried (and perhaps failed) to acquire new warm bodies through email. Why? Because prospecting through email these days can definitely be challenging. To say the least.

If you’re a one- or two-time email marketer who tried it and didn’t like it, then listen up because today’s column is for you.

The art of acquisitions — that is, of acquiring customers and leads through email — is not always the easiest thing to do. In fact, with certain business models, it is virtually impossible. Generally speaking, however, if you can come up with a solid plan of attack, you can break through and achieve some degree of success in this area.

Based on experience with clients (and mind you, these clients span across a variety of industries), I think I can safely say that acquisitions success truly boils down to two key items, namely, the offer and the lists. And how you plan and/or manage each.

The offer. More often than not, a lead-generation type of offer is mandatory the first time out. Unless, of course, your products are extremely low priced and high value (as would be the case if you were to offer a “feeder” product — one of your more popular lower-priced products or services — at a “bring ’em in the door” price).

But let’s stick with the lead-generation offer. You need to come up with something that is relevant to your products, is fairly inexpensive to mass fulfill (or has a one-time cost that can be spread across generated leads), and has perceived value to your potential customers.

For example, if your ultimate goal is to sell children’s designer bath items, perhaps you give away a whimsical rubber duck. Or if you sell business telephones, maybe you give away a free set of “hands-free” headphones — that can only be used with your phones, of course. And if you sell subscriptions (of any kind), the obvious route is to offer a free, limited-time trial. Whatever it takes to get folks to click and convert.

In other words, present your wonderful “gift” in your email and get recipients to click through to an offer-specific landing page where the only thing they need to do is register. Be sure that you’ve included the appropriate opt-in language so that you will be allowed to send messages in the future. And don’t forget to actually send those follow-up messages on a regular basis, but always make it easy for new registrants to unsubscribe.

If you don’t have rock-solid copywriters and designers in-house, by all means, hire an outsourced creative team. Additionally, if you don’t have an experienced email and/or direct marketing “strategist” who can help you plan, develop, and manage subsequent emailings, then run — do not walk — and get one. The presentation of the offer, message, and landing page need to drive the strongest sense of urgency and desire. Your conversion plan needs to be airtight. There are simply too many promotional emails out there to compete against. You need to stand out.

The lists. Sure, opt-in lists are available in the millions these days. And there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of vendors among list owners, brokers, managers, and others.

Truth be told, however, that despite the abundance, certain list categories are hard to find or the quality therein is sorely lacking. But there ARE ways you can make sure you’re getting the best possible lists to find your potential audience. How? Ask a ton of questions, and take your time.

Granted, time is something that those of us in this industry have so little of. But when it comes to lists, it would behoove you to take the time to research them properly.

First, you should subscribe to every email newsletter and opt-in list within your marketplace. For instance, if you’re selling high-end software solutions for sales executives, you probably already subscribe to (and have advertised in) every offline magazine and trade publication within the sales arena. Many of them have online or emailed versions. Sign up. Find out if they offer their opt-in email lists. If they do, ask who else has tested or rolled out to these lists. Are they your competitors? If not, there’s probably a good reason why.

If you’re dealing with a broker or list vendor, find out how each one of its recommended lists was gleaned. If names were gathered on a web site, go to that site and walk through the process yourself. Does the registration page contain the appropriate opt-in language? (You’ll know it when you see it.) Does it have a pre-checked “Yes, I want to receive” box, or does it allow subscribers to check that box themselves? (Note: The latter method does seem to yield a higher-quality prospect that is more willing to receive promotional messages, though the jury’s still out on that one.)

If you have access to the list owner, by all means, contact him or her, and find out what he or she knows about the list subscribers. While doing research for one of our clients recently, we discovered what on the surface seemed to be a perfectly targeted list. When we dug a little further, however, it turned out that the list was skewed more toward vendors of the target market. In other words, subscribers were made up of the client’s own competitors!

And last, but certainly not least, find out how often the list is updated. If it’s once a year, that is simply not enough for an email list. Once a month is more like it. People change their email addresses too often for a list to be cleaned any less.

Bottom line: If you HAVE tested email in the past and it didn’t work for you, take a quick review of the above. Chances are good that a solidly built lead-generation campaign to a well-researched list will get you the preliminary results you need. So don’t give up before implementing a few well-heeled rules.

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