Sign me up

Nov 01, 2007 9:30 PM  By

Ask any multichannel marketer about the biggest challenges in e-mail, and growing their lists will certainly come up somewhere in the conversation.

Enter e-mail co-registration. When the tactic first came along in the early part of this decade, it was considered a fast and relatively effort-free way to grow an e-mail file.

The process involved simply putting an offer on someone else’s online e-mail registration form and paying for the names of each person who checked the box. Very quickly, though, it became apparent that e-mail co-registration could be a sure-fire way to load a file with garbage names, and marketers grew cold on the subject.

Then a few years later, the topic got hot again and today, co-registration is in widespread use — but not necessarily always done well.

“Co-registration these days is really common,” says Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services for e-mail service provider EmailLabs. “Unfortunately, it’s most commonly done poorly.”

The results of co-registration done wrong are open, click, and conversion rates that are dramatically lower than those for e-mail acquired through other means, and people who opt out more quickly.

E-mail addresses collected through a sloppy co-registration program can also be a source of spam complaints.

And this last point is not to be taken lightly. Spam complaints are the number-one gauge the large e-mail inbox providers, such as AOL, Yahoo, and Hotmail, use to determine whether to treat incoming e-mail as spam by either blocking it or shunting it off into the user’s spam folder. A spam-complaint rate of half a percent or higher will result in serious delivery troubles.

But according to experts, e-mail co-registration still can be a good way to augment a multichannel merchant’s e-mail list-building efforts. Like most things worthwhile in marketing, it is not effortless; it simply requires planning and some attention to detail. And the dividends can be great.

“There are two key approaches to e-mail co-registration,” says Pollard. “One is the shotgun approach, which is about as effective as buying lists. It’s usually some free-giveaway site offering phone minutes or an iPod download. The registration boxes are pre-checked and you just start getting e-mail addresses of people who really don’t know why it is you’ve contacted them.

“If you take that approach, you’re begging for trouble because you’re putting customers who don’t know why they’re getting e-mail from you into your database, which in turn will affect your reputation at the ISPs, and in the long run, your deliverability,” he says.

As a result, Pollard recommends taking a targeted approach to co-registration and selecting partners that make sense based on the audiences their sites draw.

“When they’re registering their e-mail addresses, they’re registering on a topic of interest to them,” he says. “If you’re another source of interest related to that topic, they’re much more likely to check the box saying they want to hear from you.”

Most companies engaged in co-registration are trying to build a big list quickly, he adds, and that is not the right long-term strategy. “If you’re trying to build a brand and a relationship, then picking the right partner means more work,” Pollard says.

A merchant selling Oakley sunglasses, for example, may be able to achieve co-registration success at a Website dedicated to serving the needs of skiing enthusiasts, says Pollard. “If I’m selling Oakley sunglasses, then advertising on a co-registration page where they’re selling items that are often worn with Oakley sunglasses, like snow gear, makes sense,” he says. “People who are buying snowboards and bindings are often buying Oakley sunglasses as part of the whole package.”

Pollard also recommends keeping tight control over the whole process. “Always make sure you know the source of your e-mail names,” he says. “You need to be able to physically look at the page where your ad is hosted and know that every lead that comes to you is tagged with a source so that if you have a partner that is generating poor leads or generating complaints against you, you can review the program and terminate the relationship if necessary.”

The merchant should also take the time to co-register on partners’ sites using anonymous addresses to see what happens as a result.

“Vet your partners very carefully,” says Stephanie Miller, vice president, strategic services for e-mail deliverability firm Return Path. “It’s important to experience what the prospect will experience and know how much other e-mail will be sent as a result of the sign-up process.”

If you can’t, she notes, “I would hesitate to use that channel. As a merchant, you want to make sure you associate your brand with experiences that match the quality of your brand.”

Besides monitoring partners to make sure they’re delivering quality names without tarnishing the brand, a good co-registration program also entails making sure the registrants aren’t surprised when they start receiving e-mail. The merchant must ensure that the people who register their e-mail addresses are clear up front on what they are registering for and with whom.

As a result, the co-registration form should have the merchant’s brand front and center and the registrant should be required to physically check a box to start receiving e-mails. Pre-checked boxes are an absolute no-no in e-mail co-registration.

Another recommended safeguard is sending registrants confirmation e-mails thanking them for signing up, and verifying that they did so. These confirmation e-mails should require new subscribers to respond to verify that they did, indeed, sign up to receive e-mails from the merchant.

“Anytime somebody doesn’t sign up on your site, on your branded page, you should do confirmed opt in,” says Pollard. “It reinforces that they really did fill out that form.”

The welcome e-mail should also make clear where the merchant got the registrant’s name. The reason: The merchant may be getting the names days after the sign-up took place, giving the registrants a chance to forget that they supplied their addresses. Reminding them where they registered will help avoid, you guessed it, spam complaints.

Using confirmed opt in during the registration process also ensures the e-mail address is safe for addition straight into the merchant’s house file, says Pollard.

“If you use confirmed opt in, you can be completely comfortable, because that person took the extra step to say: ‘Yes, I really want to join your list,’ ” he says.

Return Path’s Miller recommends setting up a series of welcome e-mails for new customers and prospects gained via co-registration. She adds that it’s important to tell registrants in the welcome e-mail what they should expect as a result of signing up.

“Think in terms of campaigns,” she says. “Don’t assume that a 15-second co-registration experience will establish a relationship. Take the time to create a welcome series of e-mails with an appropriate cadence that greets prospects, engages them, and moves them through the sales cycle.”

This is especially important for multichannel merchants who, contrary to traditional DM thinking, must be extra careful to think in terms of value for registrants as opposed to simply getting permission to mail.

“A lot of merchants haven’t seen a whole lot of success with co-registration because while they can get people to opt in, the people opt out or complain just as quickly because the message has no value to the end recipient,” says EmailLabs’ Pollard.

Catalogers struggle because they have the whole “buy, buy, buy” mentality, he says. “The consumer may have been interested enough in the original messaging to take a second look, but that doesn’t mean he or she wants to take 10 or 15 looks.”

E-mail is not about having a big list, he notes, “it’s about having active and engaged consumers. If you’re just looking for eyeballs, e-mail may not be the medium for whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.”

Return Path’s Miller also stresses the importance for multichannel merchants to avoid thinking in terms of tonnage when it comes to e-mail. “That’s the fundamental difference between e-mail and direct mail,” she says. “In direct mail, there is no punishment for overmailing except cost. In e-mail there is a penalty. It’s getting blocked and having the sender’s reputation go down the tubes.”

Make me an offer

So what types of offers tend to work in e-mail co-registration programs? Return Path’s Miller says that when determining what to offer, it is important to consider the venue in which the offer is placed.

“If you’re on a site where people go to get free stuff and you put an offer on there for something for $500, you’re not going to get a whole lot of takers,” she says. “Make sure you’re offering something that’s going to be relevant to the people who are going to be on that site.”

She also recommends making the offer as impulse-oriented as possible. “What you’re trying to do is create an offer that the consumer can make a decision about in three to 15 seconds. So, for example, a lower price point generally works better, and it should be something that is instantly recognizable.”

And it helps if offers are easily fulfilled, such as an instant download, a white paper, a subscription or a free product. “Discounts can work, but it’s generally more effective to offer something specific,” she says.

“For example, 10% off everything in the store is generally going to be less effective than ‘buy one, get one free of this particular item.’ But it all comes back to the fact that someone’s making a decision in an extremely short period of time, so the more specific the offer, the better.”

Miller also stresses that it is important not to think of the co-registration effort in a vacuum, because recipients certainly don’t see it that way. The merchant’s co-registration offer should work in harmony with its other online efforts.

“If REI is promoting ski equipment, then having a ski-based co-registration offer makes more sense because that’s what people are seeing everywhere else,” she says.

What works will vary from merchant to merchant, so test co-registration offers on an ongoing basis. “Test as often and comprehensively as you can,” Miller says. “Test the offer, your placement on the page or series of pages, the call to action, your logo, the image and the confirmation e-mail that gets triggered.”

In any case, the most important concept a multichannel merchant must understand when implementing a co-registration program is that there should be no surprises for the registrant.

“The key to a successful co-registration program is recognition,” says Pollard. “Make sure you’re not hiding and make sure registrants know where you got their names.”