Risks and rewards of e-mail append

Jan 01, 2006 10:30 PM  By

E-mail appending — adding e-mail addresses you’ve rented to the postal addresses on your house file — is a tricky proposition. Marketers walk a fine line between engaging their catalog and retail customers in a new channel and being viewed as a spammer. As Matt Blumberg, president of New York-based e-mail services provider Return Path, says, “There are a lot of risks.” And opinions vary regarding whether the risks are worth taking.

The append process

List owners typically obtain the e-mail addresses they want to append by matching their customer records against records from a third-party data provider. In effect, they’re renting only the e-mail address select and only for names they already own. All e-mail addresses used for e-append are consent-based, according to Ben Isaacson, privacy and compliance leader of Costa Mesa, CA-based Experian, which owns e-mail services provider CheetahMail.

The cost of e-appending is somewhat lower than that of renting an opt-in e-mail list for prospecting. At Acxiom, says data product leader Allison Marr, for consumer lists a marketer could expect to spend $20/M-$120/M on e-append data; by comparison, the base rental price for a typical consumer list is $30/M-$150/M.

Estimates vary as to the percentage of house file names that will find matches during the e-append process. Marr says that on average only 15%-20% of the names that don’t already have e-mail addresses attached to them gain the data following the e-append. “The data is not easy to come by,” she says. “In many cases, consumer e-mail addresses change frequently.”

The good and the bad

Proponents of e-mail append contend that being able to contact even an additional 15% of your house file via e-mail can reduce your catalog mailing costs if you subsequently choose to reduce print mailings to them. Then, too, numerous studies indicate that customers who access a company via multiple channels have a greater lifetime value than those who use just one channel.

But if one-channel customers had wanted you to contact them via the additional channel of e-mail, argue opponents, they would already have provided you with their e-mail address. Therefore, you’re less likely to enjoy any lift in response or lifetime value from customers who are being contacted in a channel they didn’t request. “Just appending someone’s e-mail address is the wrong thing to do,” says Rick Bush, director of privacy and ISP relations for Lexington, MA-based e-Dialog, an e-mail services provider. “You’re not being responsible about handling the data.”

What’s more, customers who receive unrequested e-mail from you may file complaints with their Internet service providers or spam registers. As a result, you could find yourself on spam blacklists, your e-mail messages blocked by ISPs and corporate filters so that they don’t reach even those recipients who opted in to receive your messages.

“Mailers need to do everything they can to minimize complaints,” says Return Path’s Blumberg, “and household-level e-mail append matches seem to pose greater risks.” Indeed, it’s far more desirable to have customers voluntarily submit their e-mail addresses, even though this approach may take far longer to obtain a critical mass of addresses (for suggestions on how to build an opt-in file, see “Get them to opt in — here’s how,” below).

Appending best practices

If you decide to go ahead and append e-mail addresses, there are steps you can take to minimize the risks and improve response rates. Here’s some advice on how:

  • Be sure to give customers ample opportunity to opt out of your e-mail file. Making the option obvious to e-mail recipients is “critical,” says Michael Della Penna, chief marketing officer of New York-based database solutions provider Epsilon, the parent company of e-mail marketing services provider Epsilon Interactive. “By adding a link to opt out, it gives customers control.”

    Moreover, the ability to opt out is not only critical, it is required for commercial messaging by the Can-Spam act and for all messaging (including service messages) at many ISPs with white-listing programs, says Della Penna.

  • Flag all your appended addresses on your house file, and be especially sensitive to consumer reactions and requests/preferences from those names. Monitor e-mail metrics, such as opens, click-throughs, replies, opt-outs, and complaints from the appended records compared with the opt-in addresses.

    “Over time you can see the value of these customers compared with those who have voluntarily given you their e-mail address at some other touchpoint,” Della Penna says. “This ultimately determines if the append process for your efforts is one that you want to continue to invest in or if you need to refine and alter your approach.”

  • Mail the appended addresses from a different IP address than the one you use for mailing opt-in addresses. E-mail append addresses typically have a higher bounce rate and may generate a higher-than-average number of complaints, according to Della Penna. By mailing e-mail append addresses from a separate IP address you can better manage and monitor those messages as well as isolate potential issues so that they do not affect your other mailings.

  • Insist that your append vendor validate the deliverability and accuracy of all addresses before you buy them. According to Blumberg, 32% of e-mail addresses change every year, and appended addresses are more likely to be outdated than opt-in records. In fact, Blumberg suggests that you should pay only for the e-mails that get delivered, not just for the ones that technically “match,” Blumberg instructs.

  • Append addresses only to the records of recent customers — say, those who have made a purchase within the past 18 months, suggests Experian’s Isaacson. These customers are more likely to remember that they already have a relationship with your company, even if it’s not an e-mail relationship, than are less recent customers.

Get them to opt in — here’s how

Want to build the size of your e-mail file without appending or renting names? Below, industry professionals offer advice on how to encourage customers and prospects to willingly provide their e-mail addresses.

  • Make e-mail collection a strategic imperative. Set a goal, communicate benefits and milestones, train your customer-facing employees to ask for addresses, and consider offering employees an incentive for doing it. “Be sure to ask and ask often,” says Stephanie Miller, vice president, strategic services, for New York-based e-mail services provider Return Path. “Make collecting e-mail addresses a priority for your Website success.”

  • Integrate e-mail collection into every customer touchpoint, such as call centers, Website, point-of-sale, and direct mail, says Michael Della Penna, chief marketing officer of New York-based database solutions provider Epsilon, the parent company of e-mail marketing services provider Epsilon Interactive.

  • Think value/benefit, says Della Penna. Use relevant content to encourage subscriptions and provide a clear benefit and value in the way of discounts and unique content to the customer in exchange for his e-mail address.

  • Use research and surveys. Get key customer segments involved, leveraging existing relationships to understand use, interests, and needs to evolve and customize your e-mail program. Satisfied customers will spread the word.

  • Include “forward to a friend” capabilities to encourage additional subscriptions. Your best customers will be your best marketing tool by encouraging family and friends to subscribe, provided you build a program that offers value, Della Penna says.

  • Keep it simple. Miller says that a one-step request for an address is usually best: “You can always collect more data after you’ve got that most essential element.”