Wish List for 2001

Out with the old, in with the new. Isn’t that one of the adages of every new year?

If only we could make that stick.

When it comes to this industry, I can tell you there are quite a few things I’d like to get rid of (e.g., spammers, lists that aren’t updated regularly, etc.). But there are also some other items I’d like to see implemented — items that would benefit all email marketers.

What would ultimately be the biggest benefit? A big old boost in response, that’s what! So here’s my wish list of items that will, in my opinion, lead to stronger clicks and conversions in 2001…

Merge and purge. Ahhh… if only. This enhancement tool is on just about everyone’s radar, of course. As I mentioned last October, IntraSource has been an active advocate of it and has been urging list vendors to begin considering IntraSource as a reliable third party to handle the processing of outside opt-in lists. Other companies, such as Return Path, a permission-based change-of-email-address firm, also plan to add merge and purge to their existing services.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, merge and purge can help optimize a campaign with the use of data technology to suppress duplicate records, thereby ensuring that recipients who are members of multiple lists don’t receive multiple messages. In a direct-response email promotion, unlike a promotion in broadcast or other branding-oriented media, frequency is most definitely not the key when it comes to upping response. In fact, it can all but kill it. Merge and purge will help opt-in prospecting lists stay fresh and response-driven, which brings me to my next wish…

Regular data enhancements of outside lists. In last week’s article, I wrote about cost-per-acquisition (CPA) deals and how they may end up doing more harm than good. Yes, in the short term, CPA deals can be great if negotiated properly. However, in the long run, I think they have the potential to dilute the quality of a list and render it virtually worthless.

So what’s the alternative? Outside opt-in list providers need to implement strategies that will set their lists apart. Namely, they need to offer enhancements, such as modeling and profiling of their names. Yesmail.com has been offering modeled names for some time now.

In a nutshell, a modeled list is reviewed and segmented based on certain variables, such as when a customer last made a purchase or transaction, how often a customer makes purchases and transactions, or how much money a customer has spent over time or per transaction. In other words, recency, frequency, and/or monetary variables can all be used to model a database.

In a typical scenario, customers from all segments — even those segments that are deemed less than worthy — are first sent test messages to test the model’s effectiveness. If the model is sound, the message gets rolled out to the stronger segments.

So in the case of an opt-in email-list vendor that has several million names, here’s how it may play out. Over and above offering the standard selects, such as interest and standard demographic and geographic data, a list vendor could — with a decent data technology platform behind it — do what yesmail.com does and offer lists made up of those people within a particular segment who seem most likely, based on previous mailings, to click through.

And once this kind of data manipulation becomes more mainstream across providers, it can be fine-tuned even more.

More valuable and recipient-oriented internal promotions. I believe (and hope) that email messaging will naturally progress to this point. But whether it happens this year remains to be seen.

Obviously, there needs to be a greater focus on one-to-one marketing within house list promotions and newsletters. As most of you are well aware, there are way too many general “broadcast-type” emails that simply do not have the individual subscribers in mind. It’s no wonder that response rates across the board are going down. Eventually, the masses get restless.

This is certainly one of those things that fall under the realm of the “beyond our immediate control.” However, timing, value, and relevance are what these three “wishes” really add up to. They will be the key drivers for future email marketing success, no matter how you slice and dice it.

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