February 23, 2006
Case Study

How to Grow Your List to 2 Million Opt-Ins -- and Which Tactics Give You Higher Quality Names

SUMMARY: This week's Case Study is thanks to not one but two separate Sherpa readers who wrote in to say, 'Would you find out what Bell Canada's doing with their email?' Well, sure! So we called up Bell Canada's Alain Tremblay and he agreed to be grilled by us for over an hour. Turns out his team is using three list-building tactics that are not only smart but also permission-based. Here are all the details, including creative samples and fascinating response data.

"In 1998, when we started doing email, I was involved from day one. We learned permission marketing right from the beginning," says Bell Canada's Alain Tremblay.

Tremblay, Associate Director Online Application Management, was running the team in charge of email marketing for the 10 million customer company.

But, while having more than 10 million customers is a glorious thing, what's the best way to get them to voluntarily hand over their email addresses and request marketing email messages from you?


Naturally the team popped opt-in boxes onto every existing online registration form they could find. Key: Because this was Canada, they always asked for language preference of French vs English.

(Side Note: American-based marketers are not legally required to ask Canadian customers and prospects for a French language choice. But we strongly recommend you do so if Canadians are a sizeable enough portion of your sales. Not only are French Canadians accustomed to this politeness, but they also tend to respond better to their own language. Whether or not they happen to know English is beside the point. As Tremblay pointed out, one's native tongue is usually one's preference.)

In addition, the team had a strict rule -- no email addresses were to be added to the database, even if collected, unless there was a separate email offer check-box on the form.

While the various sites collected pretty good names, it was tens of thousands of names, not hundreds of thousands and certainly not millions. The team launched two tactics to boost numbers.

#1. Inbound call center requests

An estimated 10,000 reps work at Bell Canada's inbound call centers. That vast number, combined with typical call center turnover, meant training these reps to remember to ask for emails *and* gain appropriate permission would be next to impossible.

So the team decided to add an ask-for-email screen to the form reps must type answers into as they routinely help customers.

Key: Just as with the online forms customers fill out themselves, there was an extra check box for permission to send email. Plus, for the call center this checkbox was set with the default answer of "No" to avoid assumed permission slipups.

Also the team set up a personalized email program whereby new opt-ins got a message packed with handy links directly related to whatever they'd just discussed with the rep. Those links might include service FAQs, an opt-in welcome reminder and even the latest sales promo, all in one tidy package. So customers were not bothered by multiple emails as a result of one conversation. (Link to sample below.)

#2. Annual contest promotion

At first the team tagged opt-in offers onto promos that other Bell departments were running. That brought in enough names that finally Tremblay asked for a budget to do his own annual promo, dedicated to gathering opt-ins.

Most recently, in the fall of 2005, the team partnered with Aeroplan (a Canadian air-miles program) to create a contest offering a dream flight. To make the contest more fun, contestants had to interact with an online game that asked them to populate the flight with their friends. Then contestants could send an email to up to five of those friends asking them to enter, too.

The team ran banner ads on sister-site Sympatico and sent out email invitations to all the names on its own current opt-in lists.

Why promote to your current opt-ins? Two reasons: They're more likely than others to virally share your contest with friends; also, a contest form is a great chance to get more data about your names. The more data you have, the better you can segment your next campaigns for optimum relevancy and improve campaign results.


Starting with just 40,000 opt-ins in 1998, Bell Canada's opt-in list now peaks just over 2 million names.

Names from opt-in forms tend to have the highest response rates, which makes sense because they are Internet-savvy consumers who have proactively sought the form out. "But they're just a small group of people, very, very small."

On average, 20% of incoming call center callers say OK to receiving email. So that's a nice strong source of names the team can count on year in, year out. However, although the response rate to the promo offer in that first transactional service email is "Fabulous," the call center names never respond as well to other campaigns as names from other sources.

They just don't open and click on newsletters, contest promos or sales alerts the way names from other sources do. Which makes sense. These are consumers who pick up the phone when they want to interact with the company.

Names from promos tend to respond in the mid-range, not as well as routine opt-ins, not as badly as call center names.

The Aeroplan contest itself blew way past expectations. "It went viral and it went very fast," says Tremblay. "We got five times the response we expected from those names." More data on response rates from promos to the opt-in file include:

Opt-ins who'd joined from past contests: 55% open, 66.96% clickthrough; best opt-ins with fairly active stats: 60% open, 21.46 clickthrough; worst opt-ins who rarely if ever responded: 20% open, 32% clickthrough.

So, the contest proved that, yes, contest-lovers will enter contests. But more interestingly, it also proved your so-called inactives file will respond if you make an occasional effort to send them something truly unusual. Routine re-activation campaigns are well worth the work!

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Bell Canada email-related campaigns: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/cs/bellcan/study.html

Siebel -- the technology Bell Canada integrated back-end databases onto for ease of segmenting and tracking email and other campaigns: http://www.siebel.com/

Bell Canada: http://www.bell.ca

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