E-mail: Go Organic
There are two schools of thought when it comes to e-mail appends. One perspective says customer permission for contact is inherent regardless, while the other notes that businesses should not assume permission for postal addresses is the same as e-mail permission because consumers treat e-mail addresses differently.
Expanding on the latter—and more consumer-friendly—of the two approaches, marketers should build and maintain their lists via ongoing permission-based dialogue in order to truly engage customers through e-mail marketing. They can think of it as an organic append—the process of naturally adding to or modifying their customer data to increase accuracy during natural communication points with the customer.
Besides being a more ethical method, it also is more effective. E-mail campaigns aren't measured by the number of names on the e-mail list; they are measured by the actions the customers take.
Impersonal vs. Respectful
The most widely accepted way of building strong customer relationships is to maintain relevancy. Marketers should think very specifically about what benefits their e-mail campaigns bring to recipients and why these messages are worthy of their attention.
Consider this example: If you had a friend who you rarely saw, how would you spend the little time you had with that person? Would you shout as much information as possible in the time you had? That person probably would not want to spend time with you if you did. Marketers should handle their customer relationships with the same respect.
E-mail is a tool to help marketers extend and nurture relationships with customers. The way they use e-mail marketing is reflected in the way their customers view them. If they are impersonal, their customers are likely to see them in that way and be less inclined to engage with them. If they are respectful and relevant, customers want to interact more.
Ask vs. Automate
Trust is an essential part of any interaction with a customer, and that begins with a permission-based relationship. Before marketers add customers' addresses to their e-mail lists, they need to make sure these customers want to be contacted. If the relationship is desired by the customer, the business has an increased opportunity for success. If the customer does not consent to be contacted, e-mailing him with offers and news is perceived as spam, giving the company a negative reputation that could be passed to other potential customers.
Ideally, businesses should be working to extend relationships online that may have started elsewhere. If a business has postal addresses and wants to add e-mail addresses, asking instead of automating will develop increased sales potential. Extending a relationship is what a business should focus on, and using e-mail should be considered a tool to aid in that goal.
There's Rules and Then There's Common Sense
The CAN-SPAM Act enforced by the Federal Trade Commission lays out the rules and regulations for unsolicited e-mail. E-mail append supporters say customer consent for a postal address also implies e-mail consent. However, customers who suddenly start receiving e-mails from a business to which they've never given permission may perceive that contact as spam.
The Direct Marketing Association has published guidelines on appending e-mail addresses to consumer files, largely based on the CAN-SPAM Act. Requirements include a pre-established relationship, the ability for removal with the welcome e-mail and subsequent e-mails, and that the data used in the append process is composed of users who opted in to receiving e-mails. The DMA says vendors or businesses should never guess, manufacture or harvest e-mail addresses.
Rules aside, the path to better business is always honesty in e-mail list creation. If marketers wonder whether a tactic might violate CAN-SPAM, they probably are considering a tactic that isn't likely to be well-received by existing or potential customers. Their e-mail campaigns will be welcomed by customers if recipients already do business with the company and have consented to be contacted.
Smarter List Building: An Organic Append
All marketers must continue to cultivate relationships and grow their customer bases, so appending lists is a necessity. How they approach these appends determines not only their reputations, but their success as well.
While the purchase option is available, the best e-mail append is the natural one. Adding e-mail addresses to your database with proper permissions increases your organization's credibility and effectiveness.
If a marketer's house list doesn't have e-mail information, there are several ways to ask customers to opt in to e-mail contact. Marketers should view every interaction with customers as a natural opportunity to begin a dialogue that can continue through opt-in e-mail.
Once the initial list is established, marketers should consider building their e-mail lists organically to get more customers to join through proper opt-in steps and permission channels:
• First, define the natural transaction point to collect information—including during an online transaction, via a seminar sign-up sheet or when filling out a request for information—gaining the customer's attention while she is already focused on the business.
Miracle Method of Columbus, a Grove City, Ohio, franchise of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based surface restoration company with more than 100 locations nationwide, decided to include the e-mail address as part of the information it collected for a work order, a natural place in the transaction to ask for such contact data. Once it had collected the information, Miracle Method started two-way dialogues with those who provided their e-mail addresses, asking them for feedback and reviews after a service was rendered.
• Think of instances during other customer interactions that will generate natural collection of e-mails from customers. Place a sign-up form on the homepage that asks users to enter their e-mail addresses to receive future communications. For online purchases, include an opt-in field on the order form to be included on the e-mail list. In person, ask customers if they want to be contacted via e-mail at the point of purchase. Include e-mail subscription information on all printed materials, including print advertising and direct mail. And don't forget to ask during customer service calls and at trade shows and networking events.
• Be honest about what customers are being asked to do. Marketers should explain that they are building e-mail lists and what they will do with them. They should let customers know the benefit that is in the relationship for them when they are signing up. Marketers should give customers something in return for contact information, such as advance notice of offers or e-mail-only discounts, and customers will be more apt to sign up. Contests and sweepstakes may persuade customers to sign up in the short term but generally do not turn into sales in the long term.
• Once a marketer has an e-mail address, it should treat the relationship with the same care it did the initial collection of the address. The marketer should be mindful that permission is perishable. If it has been six months since the business has had any communication with a customer via e-mail, it should send an e-mail requesting customers to opt in again for contact.
E-mail appending does not have to be a negative term. Every marketer wants and needs to add on to its list. If marketers approach appending as a more organic and natural process, they'll find a more engaged customer who is more apt to respond.
Richard Turcott, chief marketing officer at Needham, Mass.-based customer feedback and e-mail marketing company RatePoint.com, can be reached at (888) 777-1636.