Email marketing to your own house list is so hot these days that
generally all we hear about is "How can I gather more names?"
"How can I grow our list even bigger quickly?"
Getting more opt-ins has become the marketing mantra that getting
loads of site traffic used to be. Until now.
In the past 24 hours (literally), three different marketers we
respect enormously have told us it is not about names. It is about
First Mike Grover, Director of Marketing for CMP's TechWeb
Network, told us that he turns people down who opt-in for his IT
Ad Club newsletter if they do not qualify as being the type of
professional who he thinks should be reading it.
He explains, "I really want the right people on the list. I look
at the information they've entered at the Web site and really try
to make sure they fit the profile of being technology marketers.
Are you agency that has tech clients? Are you an in-house
Why would he care? "I try to make issues really personal. Try
to write stories that we think they want to see very much. I
don't like to be ignored, so I donít want to ignore my readers."
If his list grew beyond the pre-defined niche, he would feel
compelled to broaden his editorial to match it's needs, and risk
displeasing his core audience, the tech marketers.
Then, yesterday afternoon David James, President Bethesda List
Center, called us up in disgust at a big client-wannabe.
(Bethesda manages email and postal list rentals for about 60 list
owner clients including our parent company MarketingSherpa's
"This portal keeps asking us to rep their email lists," he said.
"But they're not any good. They say, 'But we've got millions and
millions of opt-ins!'"
James continued, "Quantity doesn't matter. To make a list a good
direct marketing list, it needs to be highly selectable so
marketers can target by zip code and job titles or functions."
"Preferably it has some additional response data such as recency
of opt-in and buying patterns. Are these multibuyers? Are these
proven email responders for paid offers? Are these sweeps names
(which are pretty much worthless except for other sweeps). The
same rules apply as in postal mail lists, and I don't care if you
have 50 million opt-ins without this."
Last but not least, first thing this morning we got an email from
marketing consultant Jim Novo, author 'Drilling Down: Turning
Customers into Profits with a Spreadsheet.' We had asked how he
gathers lots of opt-in email names for his own newsletter list.
He said, "The number of newsletter subscribers is unimportant to
me. What is important is subs buy at a very high rate."
Wow. We immediately called for more details.
Our question to Novo:
Email is so cheap to send, why does it matter if people respond
well or not? Should you not grow a big list in hopes that at
least some people respond? Can not you just be like a whale
swallowing lots of seawater to filter out the plankton?
Novo's (summarized) response:
#1. Battle list fatigue by sticking to targeted lists
If you mail a list with offers too often, if you keep on
contacting them with your message, they become insensitive to
your message. Offline direct marketers have seen response rates
drop by 50% or more when they over-mailed a list.
Obviously this fatigue is exacerbated when you send untargeted
offers to that list; offers or messages that each particular
name does not care about deeply.
The more you grow your list with the aim of having lots of
names, versus just-the-right names for a particular niche or
offer, the more likely it is that your offers will not be dead-on
perfect for most people receiving them.
Soon your untargeted audience perceives your offers as spam-like.
The more likely the next time they get email from you, they
just hit "delete" instead of even bothering to open or read it.
Someday when you do have a perfect offer for them, they will not
The best way to battle list fatigue is not to email people until
you have something that is highly targeted to them. Broad offers
to broad lists just do not work over time.
#2. Do not chase the wrong sale
Another problem with the whole whale-seawater-plankton manner of
marketing is that the results metrics you receive may ultimately
drive you out of business.
That is because you will be watching metrics to see what makes an
unfocused, not-so-qualified, list respond. Often these people
end up being one-time buyers, or limited-value sweeps entrants,
or discount shoppers who only purchase your loss-leader items.
As you focus your marketing to be more and more successful at
gathering this plankton from the ocean water, you end up spending
more money, time and effort on convincing people to be your
customers who may be the exact opposite of the kind of repeat
customer that makes a company profitable.
What really matters is not tracking what causes a big huge list
of opt-ins to buy, but what causes your smaller universe of
multi-buyers to keep on doing business with you.
Those opt-ins are worth gold. Why sweep them into the same broad
campaigns as a general list? Why even bother gathering a general
Novo says, "You imply from what you're sending to the bigger list
that it's the right thing to do. So you keep on sending out the
kind of thing that appeals to 70% of the people, rather than that
30% core. You begin to lose your best customers. Eventually
there is no business."
#3. The "invisible" cost of email names
Everyone says, "Emailing is practically free." It is not.
The more opt-ins you have, the more you have to pay these costs
above and beyond the message transmission fees:
-> Customer service: For every thousand names you add to your
list, your customer service or subscriber service costs go up
because someone has to handle the inevitable reply email load.
If you do not handle it quickly and efficiently, your brand as
a whole suffers.
If your team can not handle the volume of replies, then you will have
to stagger your mailings over two, three or four days as many
major mailers commonly do. Which means some of your mailings may
end up going out on days that are not as profitable as other days
(such as Mondays and Fridays which many marketers say they get
lower response rates on). The less-great opt-ins clogging
your list may push some of your best names into worst response
-> Spam accusations: Just as with increased customer service,
the more emails you have going out, the more spam accusations
will pop up. That is not because you are a spammer. It is because
out of every list you gather a percent will forget they opted in and get upset and report you as a spammer.
It is inevitable. The costs that follow on the heels of spam
accusations are also inevitable. Dealing with blacklists,
dealing with possible adverse publicity, dealing with your own
email broadcast vendor who may dump you because you are too risky
a client, the list goes on.
-> List cleaning and database management: Server space costs
money, managing a database costs money, cleaning a list on a
routine basis to remove bounce-backs and bad email addresses
Novo says of one of his clients who went wild for gathering opt-
ins, "They signed up millions of email names, but ended up
with 90% of the people who came in were all bill-me-laters. The
data they collected was junk. They had to pay for a database
full of junk. You spend all sorts of resources to deal with
Convinced? Now the question is how do you get just the right
opt-ins, the high quality opt-ins to join your list. What
can you do with the lesser-quality opt-ins aside from simply
We will bring you research and experts' advice on this in a future