Don’t Give Up! E-Mail List Rental Isn’t Dead

Over recent weeks, I’ve seen too many articles about Fortune 500 companies scaling back their email efforts. I’ve had too many conversations with media buyers who say they won’t use email anymore, for any reason. Time to set the record straight.

E-mail acquisition is far from over. And despite reports to the contrary, email list rental can succeed.

The story of the week came from NetCreations’ recent click-through report, showing its Q1 average CTR was 5.1 percent, up nearly a full point from last quarter. When I last checked, direct mail response was still 1 percent, and banner ads… are we still tracking those?

I spoke with NetCreations’ Mike Mayor about the surfeit of anti-acquisition discussions. He cut right to the point:

E-mail experts tell marketers to spend the majority of their budget building a better retention mousetrap, but [they” forget to buy the cheese. Acquisition and retention are two sides of the same coin. Don’t you think a customer you acquire through email is going to be a better customer to cultivate through email?

Let’s review major changes in email list rental and see why this form of acquisition has stabilized as an acquisition component.

Confirmed Permission

If you hear the words “permission based” when considering list rentals, run. “Permission based” means nothing; “confirmed” is what’s necessary. If the list owner can not document the date, time, location, and IP identification of each acquisition, the list is probably not worth your time or the potential frustration. Most ethical list managers are willing to attest to confirmed permission in writing. They adhere to industry best practices for first- and third-party suppressions.

Offline Integration

Nearly half the email lists available for rental have matching postal addresses. You can now segment as with direct mail, overlay additional profile information with third-party data sources, and synchronize email with offline campaigns to drive response. There’s no silver bullet for getting maximum response from email and postal integration, but each campaign can increase response with the right timing and creative.

Behavioral Targeting

Think you’re emailing old, tired addresses? Think again. Most list owners segment “hot files” in their lists. The hot file contains those addresses that clicked or responded in the last 90 days. The rest of the file can be segmented to open rates, dates of acquisition, performance by domain, and response to previous creative.

Better Creative

E-mail is a dynamic medium. New creative opportunities appear daily. This is hardly limited to Flash and rich media. The integration of good copy, graphics, and positioning is progressing, and the technology to track campaigns is getting better, too.

Worldata’s Jay Schwedelson notes, “The one technique that’s really jump-starting marketers’ [return on investment” is having the submission form actually located within the HTML email itself. This cuts down the number of steps needed to acquire a lead or new customer.”

Other innovations include graphic tracking, link positioning, emphasis of header copy, integration with microsites, and advergaming. All are driving response further.

Better Data

I’m on a slippery slope with a controversial topic, but here goes. If you’ve considered email append or you attempted an email append a year ago with limited success, it may be time to reconsider. Most data that went into append files in the early days was inaccurate and unresponsive. Since then, the data has been overlaid with multiple other sources and tested many times to determine optimal response.

Best practices for email append are being developed. Most append providers can confirm their acquisition data in a manner similar to that of list brokers. Though append may not be an ideal form of acquisition (it’s generally considered a retention subset), it may be worth considering for specific segments of your lists.

More Changes to Come

E-mail delivery is an increasingly critical metric for all emailers. Spam and intense filtering will take their toll on lesser quality lists and list providers. Those lists will be phased out, and those providers may resort to spam tactics. Recipients still aren’t well educated about first- and third-party lists. They respond negatively to brands using poor lists and report them to their ISPs, which often take action against the marketer. When you speak with list providers, their email delivery rates should be a central part of the discussion. (For more good questions to ask a potential provider, see my colleague Al DiGuido’s recent column.)

Enhanced behavioral segmentation and successful case studies involving offline integration are additional components of successful list rental.

I’d be remiss to neglect the vast differences between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) list rentals. B2B marketers know few lists are available, and those cost considerably more than B2C lists. Be patient. Quality B2B lists are increasing in number. Response rates are good, and holding steady.

Has email list rental worked for you? Got other tips to maximize list rental response? E-mail your thoughts!

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