Many Opt-In Sources, One Permission Standard

So you’re a permission marketer, and you still don’t understand why you generate so many spam complaints every time you send a commercial e-mail campaign? Consider this: if you use more than one method to collect addresses but don’t apply the same opt-in and welcome standards to each, you’re courting permission disaster.

Say you’re a retailer with both an online business and a brick-and-mortar store. You have an opt-in blank on your home page and an opt-in checkbox on the order or confirmation page. Your salespeople solicit the purchaser’s address at the point of sale. You may even use co-registration or affiliate programs to grow your list.

So far, so good. But what happens once a shopper hands over her e-mail address?

If you follow basic permission practices, when she opts in to your list via the form on your Web site, she should immediately be taken to a thank-you page that confirms the request and outlines what to expect from the e-mail program.

This should launch an e-mail welcoming her to the program. This welcome process generally states the benefits and subscription terms, such as the content she can expect to receive and how often she’ll receive it. It states or links to the privacy policy, perhaps includes a new-customer or e-mail-only offer, and links back to the Web site.

Compare that to what you do with addresses you collect at purchase. Do you launch the same confirmation or welcome campaign for an online customer who signs up during the purchase (whether online or at the store)?

Probably not. There’s a big disconnect between the way marketers manage Web opt-ins and how they address those they collect from other sources. Web visitors get the full treatment, whereas paying customers get dumped into a database and blasted with promo e-mail without so much as a “thank you.” They deserve the same treatment, if not better, than your site visitors.

This lack of consistency causes other problems that can reduce e-mail marketing effectiveness. When you have different opt-in standards, you also collect different levels of information. This makes it impossible to send the kind of effective, targeted e-mail that generates higher response rates and lower spam complaints.

You can see this in your database records, where the number of demographic fields varies widely by source. Direct Web and co-reg sign-ups and affiliate registrations usually have the least information (short forms convert higher, goes the thinking), perhaps even just a source code and e-mail address. Transaction opt-ins often include name, address, and more data nuggets. Below, a three-step solution to the problem.

Audit the Collection Process

Review your marketing program to identify all the ways you collect e-mail addresses:

  • Direct Web site registration

  • Referrals from forward-to-a-friend forms
  • Check-off boxes during the order process: order page, confirmation page, e-mail shipping notice
  • Co-registration program
  • Affiliate program referrals
  • List rental
  • E-mail append
  • Point-of-purchase signups
  • Other offline registration: contests, conferences, etc.

Each registration channel attracts a different subscriber type. Someone who opts in from a Web form likely has different needs and interests from the person who signs up as part of a contest. Neither is as interested as the subscriber who signs up during a purchase. Consider these differences when segmenting or targeting lists for future campaigns.

Regardless of the source, you must launch a proactive welcome campaign as soon as possible after collecting the address. Solid relationship building is always key to future successful campaigns.

Unify the Process for Collecting Data Used in Mailings

If you personalize mailings with “Dear Firstname,” make sure you collect a first name from all sources. I often see missing or blank personalized fields from e-mail programs with multiple collection points.

Create a Positive Experience From the Start

Send a welcome e-mail message to get newcomers engaged in your program as soon as you confirm the opt-in. Transactional and shipping e-mail messages are no substitute for a dedicated welcome message that confirms the opt-in and sets expectations. A message that reinforces benefits and expectations doesn’t interrupt the transaction process.

Permission Is Perishable

Related issue: How long does it take to get a point-of-purchase address into your database? Does it go in right away, or sit in the register or on a desk until someone has time to enter it?

When you neglect a dedicated welcome as part of the opt-in process for any acquisition channel, you create delivery challenges. You may think you’re doing all the right things to build lists using permission. In truth, you may have big customer-expectation holes to fill.

Look at your address-acquisition program as a whole. Track the source and identify how you register, confirm, and welcome subscribers. This helps identify permission gaps and how to close them.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

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

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