In 1996 Deb Goldstein, President IDG List Services, put the very first B-to-B direct response, opt-in email list on the rental market. Back then lots of people thought she was crazy. Now it seems like everybody's trying to copy her.
Since many of our readers are renting email lists for the first time, we called Goldstein for some useful advice.
Q: We've all heard how important it is not to spam people; and, that to be successful, an email campaign must use an opt-in list. But how do can you tell if the list you want to rent is opt-in or not?
Goldstein: The first thing you have to ask a list manager is what the source of the list is. Is it permission-based? Where does the opt-in form reside? If it's at a Web site you can verify it for yourself. If they are a controlled circulation magazine and the question is asked on the qualification form, then you can check in the publication itself.
In terms of it being "opt-in" you have to look at the way it's worded. To be an opt-in list, people must take a positive or proactive action.
Q: What other key questions should you ask a broker when renting an email list?
Goldstein: Who does the "from" line in the message you'll send out come from? Is it from the list owner or is it from you? It's better for it to come from the list owner because the permission is given to them, not the renter, and that can confuse the permission aspect of it.
Ask how often it's rented and if frequency is managed or restricted. A lot of email companies will only send one or two messages to a person a week so they know people don't get too many of them.
Ask how often is the list cleaned or updated? Our lists are updated quarterly but they're cleaned every time a transmission goes out. All unsubscribes and hard bounces are taken off immediately. (A hard bounce is an address that's absolutely undeliverable. A soft bounce is when someone's out of the office or their server is down.)
Ask what's the turn-around time? Ours is 5-7 business days, although if it's a complicated campaign it may take longer.
Ask who handles the click throughs? You can contract with our service bureau to handle them. That way you can change the URL for different tests and measure how many people clicked through. You can also handle it yourself but a lot of people don't want to do it in-house.
Q: What percent non-delivers should you expect from a rental file?
Goldstein: It should really be a trace. If the list is rented with any kind of frequency, it should be a handful. Literally not even a percentage. But that's not the case across the board frankly. I've heard of people who rented files and got a lot of bad addresses.
Q: How large do you suggest email campaign test cells should be to get statistically accurate results?
Goldstein: When I started out I offered 3,000 name minimums. But that's not really sufficient for a test cell. I think it has to be very similar to postal mail where a test should be nothing less than 5,000 names. We caution people if they take a sample less that that to manage their expectations on response rates because it's a very small test quantity.
Q: How much should a targeted B-to-B opt-in email list cost?
Goldstein: There are three parts to email cost: the base cost of the list, extra selection charges, and a transmission fee. For just the list alone it depends on the business category. For high tech the lowest you'd pay is $250/m with a 4,000 minimum. It could be as high as $300/m.
Transmission fees really range as well. You can pay between $75-$150/m. In defense of service bureaus, it's a very labor- intensive process involving database management and test transmissions. They really earn their labor fees!
Q: There are so few B-to-B opt-in email lists on the rental market right now. When will that change?
Goldstein: Right now the biggest players that own 80% of the market are publishing companies -- Cahners, Penwell, Penton, Intertec and IDG. That really is the majority of what's out there for B-to-B lists. I am not seeing any change happening in the near future. I'm seeing a real reluctance, as the privacy issues heat up, for private companies to take customer lists and create 3rd party rental files from them. They would have no hesitancy to do it on the postal side.
It will change when some of the privacy issues are resolved; when more best practices are implemented; and when people really understand that they can do this in a correct and ethical manner.
Q: What works in B-to-B email campaign creative?
Goldstein: There are basic rules! Your subject line is the most important part of your email. It's even more important than teaser copy on the outside of an envelope would be. You have to capture someone's attention immediately with an email subject line or they will delete you.
Also your first two paragraphs need to be really compelling; you need a strong call to action; and multiple calls to action. You shouldn't use more than two different URLs though. People will only click on one and frankly you confuse people by doing many different ones. It's ok to put a single URL in several places though.
Plus, you should make it really clear how people are supposed to respond and always give them an incentive to respond.
I think short copy works better than long copy, but that's my personal opinion. Some people think that with short copy you'll get a lot of response but not as many buyers. They think long copy weeds out the tire kickers and you get more qualified leads.
So you may want to test copy length. But I think people have very short attention spans when it comes to reading email solicitations. I don't think long copy works unless you've given people a really compelling reason to read on in the first couple of paragraphs.
Q: What's the biggest mistake you see B-to-B emailers making?
Goldstein: Make sure you send responses to a tailored page -- not the home page for your company!!! Also some people's subject lines have just the name of their company. And don't put the word "free" in all caps in the subject line because that looks like spam.
One mistake is not testing offers. Only 5-10% of the orders we get are for people doing some type of test. I think its because for many people it's their first time and they just want to get something out.
Email doesn't have any shelf life so if you are advertising an event don't send email out too far away from the date of the event. People decide within two weeks of an event if they are going to something or not. To do a broadcast email four-six weeks outside of an event is a big waste of money. I've seen people send out things 2-3 days before an event.
Q: How much money could companies make by building opt-in B-to-B lists to offer on the rental market?
Goldstein: Third party email rental is incredibly profitable. I'm making millions. It varies depending on how much information you have on the person, how frequently you want to rent it out, how closely you control the entire process. It's very lucrative from a list owner's perspective because all of the service bureau charges are essentially paid for by the mailer. So it's more profitable than postal list rental.
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