I have received a few different questions from agencies I work with and some on the client side about how to approach mailing to newly acquired lists. Let me start this post with this point: utilizing email as part of a new customer acquisition strategy is feasible but risky business. In an ideal email marketing scenario, your messages should be welcomed and anticipated. Email marketing campaigns that arrive unexpectedly are more often deemed an annoyance than a pleasant surprise.
Given that caveat, let’s say you or your client has a acquired a new list. Here are a few potential sources of this “asset”, all with varying degrees of legitimacy. In many cases, your list may have been:
- Rented or purchased
- Gathered manually (scraped)
- Imported from an address book(s)
- Reverse appended with email information
- Received as part of sponsorship agreement
- Received from partners or affiliates
- Received as result of a merger or business deal
- Garnered from contest or sweepstakes entries
Note: If you have the opportunity to automate a “Welcome” message in any email acquisition setting, please do so (especially with contest or sweepstakes entries). Welcome messages help set expectations for potential prospects, and in many cases, they can help us as marketers determine how best to serve our new contact based on the content she clicks or interacts with in the initial email.
Proceed with Caution
I think it is always a healthy marketing practice to imagine the customer’s point of view with any campaign instance. How would you feel if you received an email out of the blue from a company with which you are unfamiliar? Would you delete it immediately? Would you consider opening it based on the subject line? Even if you opened it, would you feel slightly uneasy about interacting with email content? These are likely the questions your email recipients will ask.
While I’m not an attorney, you can technically send an email message once to a recipient without breaking CAN SPAM rules. However, there is a lot riding on that one “hello, it’s nice to meet you” email. Here are just a few potential pitfalls to consider.
- No Pre-existing Relationship – In many cases, this may be the first time your email recipients have ever come in contact with your brand. Please consider your intended success rate and adjust expectations accordingly.
- Time and Effort May Outweigh the Return – When it’s all said and done, the time and resources necessary to execute a mailing to an unaware list, may not pencil out. Just what really can you expect from such an exercise? Those selling large ticket items may decide to carry on with an acquired list mailing while hoping to unearth a diamond prospect in the email list rough. Others may end up chalking such a mailing up as a learning experience.
- Potential SPAM Traps and Reputation Consequences – Mailing to a list of unknowns often incurs bounces and poor delivery rates. In addition, the list may contain email addresses that are terribly out of date or records known as, Honey Pots, that are often placed in circulation specifically to detect malicious email offenders.
Now if you feel the warnings above are just a tad too negative or overly contrarian, I take no offense. The table below from LeadSpend demonstrates just how dangerous sending to an unknown recipient (i.e. bad email address) can be to your SenderScore and delivery rate. Just please be careful. Reality hits you hard, bro.
Let’s Not Call These Leads, OK?
To be perfectly clear, list acquisition is not lead acquisition. A leads list is comprised of prospects who are aware of your brand and have at least a modicum of established demand for your products or services.
Email is a communications tactic for an audience that wants to have a relationship with you, not the other way around.
Jumping Out of the Airplane
Once you have weighed the Pros and Cons of mailing to an unfamiliar list and have made the decision to go forth with constructing an email campaign, please consider the following steps.
- Validate the List – Utilize a service like LeadSpend ($100 for up to 10,000 addresses) to validate your list before mailing. This step will help remove the SPAM traps and expired email addresses.
- Focus the Message on Customer Needs – Let’s remember this message is not about us; it’s about the customer. Plan on delighting them with a message or asset that they want. This is not the time to pound our chests (because no one will care). Make your willingness to be helpful the star of the show.
- Create a Hook – Stemming off the point above, a first-time introduction email is a good opportunity to leverage an existing or new asset as a method to generate interest. Given your knowledge of the recipients, craft a piece of content (i.e. a downloadable guide, a webinar series, an informative infographic, etc.) that will surely answer an important question or solve a pesky problem. By monitoring response to the asset created (e.g. measuring click performance), you will be able to discern which recipients are worthy of follow up communication.
- Plan to Use a Secondary Delivery Service – Despite the fact that you have already validated the list to this point, you may also consider using a secondary email marketing service for sending to “out of house” lists. For example, if you use ExactTarget as your primary delivery toolset, send to your acquired list message with some other software. You can never be too careful when protecting your sender reputation. If you earn the desired response from a chosen few, you can always migrate their email records over later.
- Don’t Expect Miracles – Adjust your measurement expectations accordingly. If you achieve open rates of 30-40% with your house list, don’t get too despondent when your rented list gives you a sub-10% open rate.
Ultimately, your goal when sending to an acquired list should be to introduce your brand in the most graceful manner possible. Consider the positive benefits and the negative consequences, and know that this effort could be a great success or a happy little accident.