When Email Addresses Go Bad

Undeliverables. Bounce-backs. Whatever you call them, out-of-date or incorrect email addresses are one of the biggest challenges facing B2B email marketers.

Email address churn — estimated by industry experts to be 20 to 40 percent annually — is a constant factor undermining the success of email marketing campaigns.

Whether it’s the decay of your house list, bad addresses on a permission list, or sponsorship of an e-newsletter that never reaches its target audience, the problem of customer reacquisition is costly and frustrating.

A recent NFO WorldGroup study that focused on U.S. consumers concluded that 41 percent of the respondents had changed email addresses at least once in the past two years, with 15 percent changing twice or more.

To my knowledge, no such study has been done to track the incidence of corporate email address changes, although we know anecdotally that people have been switching jobs more frequently during the past several years and, of late, getting laid off or fired.

An informal survey by B2B specialist John Coe, president of Database Marketing Associates Inc., showed that over 75 percent of the 300 business cards he collected in the past year as a speaker for the Direct Marketing Association recorded changes in personal information.

A change in job title or function within the same company was the most common, followed by a snail-mail address change, a new phone number, and, for 20 percent of the cards collected, a new email address.

In the past year a handful of companies have sprung up offering solutions for email change of address (eCOA). These include ActiveNames, Return Path (which sponsored the NFO study), Veripost, and, launched this month, Re-route.com.

For the most part, these companies are using consumer-oriented models — solutions that require the active cooperation of the email address holder — which may or may not be of much help to B2B email marketers. Let’s look at how they work.

ActiveNames

ActiveNames was first on the scene in 1998, launching as a consumer service that enables individuals to keep one another apprised of email-address changes.

Using ActiveNames requires two steps. First you must download a free plug-in, a proprietary technology that works with your email client (Outlook, Eudora, etc.) and recognizes address changes on your PC.

Then you must complete a registration process indicating whether you grant permission for automatic updates of your address or whether you prefer to be notified each time.

The company also offers businesses an application service provider (ASP) model it calls CLEANUP. The catch here is that only individuals who have registered and downloaded the ActiveNames plug-in will appear in the Web-based database.

Veripost

Veripost also requires registration to use its service, but no plug-in is necessary. By partnering with email and database marketing companies such as Acxiom, Bigfoot Interactive, MessageMedia, and Digital Impact, Veripost is “a service provider for service providers,” CEO Eric Kirby explained.

Again the match-back process only works if the end user is registered with a Veripost network partner — and has given permission to share his or her address changes. The solution is ideal for companies with massive consumer databases, Kirby said. But it’s not really designed for smaller B2B databases whose target audience is primarily corporate.

Return Path

Return Path’s service works similarly. The company is reselling eCOA through a network of database partners, such as Donnelley Marketing. The change-of-address service is bundled with Return Path’s other core product — list cleaning that manages bounce-backs by identifying and correcting faulty email addresses.

Re-route.com

Re-route.com is billing itself as the first email-forwarding service that simultaneously alerts recipients to a change in the sender’s email address. The company plans to partner with Internet service providers (ISPs) as well as email vendors.

But again, this is not a solution that will benefit corporate messaging networks. In the short term, B2B companies may want to outsource to an email service provider that is a network partner with one of the eCOA companies.

Beyond that, go into retention overdrive and zealously cultivate your prospects and customers.

Along with your permission opt-out statement, consider placing a notice at the bottom of your e-newsletters or email updates that says something like, “If you’re going to change email addresses soon, click here to let us know.”

Email Addiction Tip

Anecdotes and laments from the email addicted continue to “ping” my inbox. So rather than drop the topic of email addiction, I am starting a short tips section that will appear at the end of my column.

What are some of the ways to tame this worldwide curse afflicting business email users? Tell me, and I’ll include your tips in future columns.

(Email addiction, by the way, is not the feeling that you ought to regularly check your email in case there is a message from your boss. Addiction means that you can’t stop checking your inbox and you know that your compulsion is cutting into your productivity at the office.)

First prize for next week: a long walk outside on a spring (or autumn, for those Down Under) day with no beeper, mobile phone, or digital device that could possibly connect you to your email.

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