When All You Know is an E-mail Address…

Jan 08, 2007 10:42 PM  By

With a large and active e-commerce marketing lists – one that’s CAN SPAM compliant, platinum-plated and enhanced with dozens of self-provided data points on life-stage, category purchase history, and technology usage, you can pretty well match any product to its likely purchaser.

But what if you don’t have that depth of information? What if the only thing you have is the very minimum of information? What if all you have is an e-mail address?

While no one would trade a user name, an “at” and a domain for someone’s zip+4 address, there’s still a lot you can predict with respect to overall responsiveness, spam complaints and unsubscribe rates and abandonment based on e-mail address. Here’s what I’ve observed for the dozen or so domains that represent about two-thirds of most e-mail lists:

@yahoo.com Yahoo! utterly dominates Web-based e-mail. A commercial e-mail list could have between 18% and 25% of its total membership comprised of Yahoo! accounts. More than any other e-mail domain, Yahoo! accounts have a free and disposable nature to them. It’s easy and makes good sense to register for a Yahoo! e-mail account for the purposes of signing up for programs and opening retail accounts. When the inboxes become unwieldy, many users just abandon them and move on. It’s not uncommon to have to clean up 2%-3% of your Yahoo! names every month due to users abandoning their boxes. Consistent with users’ perception of disposability, Yahoo! addresses have lower unsubscribe rates – likely due to the fact that it’s just as easy to get a new e-mail address than click through on an unsub link. Additionally, Yahoo! has not yet moved to enforce “mark message as spam” the way that Hotmail and AOL have.

With respect to clickthrough response rates, expect a bit lower than average for Yahoo!

@hotmail.com Hotmail and its cousin MSN together can account for 13-18% of your list. While they are also free and easy for consumers to create additional accounts, Hotmail and MSN’s disposability factors are not nearly as extreme as with Yahoo! Abandonment is actually pretty reasonable, though Hotmail has been known to go through some very aggressive purges of inactive accounts. However, no one is more responsive with regard blocking the e-mailers that its users have marked as spam. With regard to performance: open, click-through, and response rates, Hotmail e-mail addresses are typically right at the average for an e-mail list. Unlike Yahoo! where there is less systematic list pruning, Hotmail’s more aggressive efforts with regard to spam enforcement and clean up of inactive e-mail accounts means that the Hotmail consumer on the other end of your e-mail is much more likely to be receiving and reading your e-mail.

@AOL.com AOL addresses are traditionally dependable and consistent. For years, AOL members remained loyal to AOL just to keep their beloved AOL e-mail addresses. That loyalty was solidified when AOL allowed its e-mail users to keep their addresses even if they moved on to a different Internet service provider. As a result, AOL accounts – typically comprising 11%-15% of a commercial list – remain remarkably responsive and stable.

Broadband ISPs. Sbcglobal (and its affiliates and merged companies), comcast.net, Time Warner/road runner, Verizon, Cox, Bell South – all have response rates that index significantly higher than the list as a whole. Why? Certainly speed has a huge impact on ecommerce satisfaction. The luxury of equal speed at home gives shoppers the option of purchasing either at work or on their home computers. Purchasing power? Probably, though just a hunch. Commitment? Definitely – those that use their ISP domains for their purchases have committed their primary e-mail addresses to an ongoing stream of e-mail marketing. Not surprisingly, unsubscribe rates are significantly higher than free services – up to double that of Yahoo! – but those that remain are most likely to be the cream of any e-mail marketing list. (note: Broadband ISPs are the most difficult providers with which to maintain inbox delivery. Roadrunner, Bell South, and Comcast all offer unique challenges to even the most pristine marketers.)

Dial-up ISPs Earthlink.net, NetZero.net. Bless them. The little engines that can. Slower speeds, but very loyal customers. Love them while you can as their subscribers tend to be very responsive. However, their share of e-mail lists continues to drop as they experience the inevitable migration toward home DSL and cable.

How can you most productively use this information? I can offer three tips that can have a measurable impact on your e-mail performance:

  • Nurture your broadband ISP domain customers. Define them as a targetable segment to whom you can test special offers or higher loyalty tiers. Be willing to invest.
  • Manage your e-mail frequency with both Hotmail and AOL. Over-mailing is more likely to spur the customer to mark you as spam – resulting in not only loss of him or her, but potentially impacting your ability to reach any Hotmail or MSN member.
  • Closely manage your Yahoo! list. Yahoo! places much of the burden on you to keep your list clean. If you exceed certain hard bounce levels, you risk undeliverability. Even though response rates are lower than the other domains, the sheer magnitude of Yahoo! mail requires that you follow their rules in order to keep white listed.

David Rosen is senior vice president of Loyalty Lab (www.loyaltylab.com), a San Francisco-based developer of customer loyalty programs for the retail ind