Delete Your E-Mail List

Do you have a successful e-mail list?

How do you determine its success:? Total subscribers? Number of weekly sign-ups? High open rate? Click-throughs? Comments generated?

All those numbers are important, but often the real value of a good list is the participation it stimulates between the subscriber and your business.

Too many businesses shell out too many dollars and resources to up their number of subscribers or to improve the demographic quality of their e-mail lists, while too few consider the quality of subscriber participation.

Don’t confuse participation with interactive technology. I’m not talking about keeping customers entertained with bells and whistles. Worthwhile interaction truly engages your audience.

So when we decided we wanted to improve participation quality with our company newsletter subscribers, we pulled up our list — and hit “delete.”

We wiped out a list of over 40,000 addresses, built organically and through co-registration. A list we’ve been mailing to since 2000. Before you conclude my book tour drove me mad (and it may as well have), read on.

At the end of the day, we don’t care much about the number of subscribers we have, we care about reader engagement — the quality of the relationship readers have with us. We don’t expect subscribers to read every issue, but if they haven’t read our newsletter once in three months, we assume they’re not interested, or don’t have the time to invest. Making any other assumption risks the quality of our subscriber interaction. The last thing we want is for the newsletter to degrade into a perception of opt-in spam.

We worked closely with KobeMail, our e-mail service provider (ESP), to create a reader engagement index report, so we can monitor engagement more frequently. We also established mailing rules that make it harder for readers to stay subscribed if they don’t participate at all.

Just because people allowed us into their inboxes at some point past doesn’t mean we can abuse the privilege. Opt-ins are not forever.

For three months, we placed a call to action at the top of each semimonthly newsletter, asking subscribers to update their subscription. They had three options:

  • Resubscribe. Readers could update their profiles and preferences (we request little intrusive information).

  • Subscribe to our newsletter via RSS or podcast feeds.
  • Do nothing. If they chose this option, they no longer receive the newsletter.

To date, 22 percent of list resubscribed to the e-mail version. The RSS and podcast feed numbers have grown significantly. But that doesn’t matter.

What matters is we now have thousands of subscribers who demonstrated they’re actively interested in what we have to say. From the recipient’s perspective, we provided an opportunity for them to consume our content in the format they prefer. We reinforced their control of the relationship, sparking greater trust. Now we can e-mail them every other week and know our newsletter arrives in a receptive inbox.

Deleting your list and starting from scratch may be too extreme for some. But at the very least, approach your list differently:

  • When people opt in, treat it like a sacred trust. Their time (and yours) is extremely valuable.

  • Be transparent with your list. A list is an opportunity to build customer relationships based on open, honest interaction, not an opportunity to strut and posture before prospects.
  • Offer true value: to your subscribers; relevant content and meaningful offers. No fluffy content or gimmicky offers. Not sure what readers perceive as value? Ask them!
  • Let go of unengaged subscribers after a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes, prospects lose interest. It happens.
  • Stop pretending you have control. Give customers more choices of how they get and use your content.
  • Ask yourself:, would you want this e-mail in your inbox? Be brutally honest.

Once you’ve placed yourself in your subscriber’s shoes, make sure your list is accountable to well-defined KPIs. What good is a list that doesn’t contribute to the financial well-being of your business?

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