Published in RESPONSE Magazine, January 2016
Choosing the most efficient tactics for new customer acquisition is both critical and a constant challenge, especially given the myriad options available to marketers today. One thing we know for sure is that winning acquisition programs must meet the following criteria:
- PRECISION, to ensure that the marketing message is reaching exactly the right individuals — and only those individuals
- TESTABILITY, offering the opportunity to test the tactic without committing huge sums of money.
- SCALABILITY, so that if it is working, it can be scaled up sufficiently to truly move the needle for a big brand while garnering price efficiencies at higher volumes.
- MEASURABILITY, so that the marketer can objectively measure the results without being held hostage to a mind-numbingly complex attribution model.
One method that consistently scores well on all these criteria is using third-party e-mail lists. Yet, too few marketers take advantage of this effective tactic, largely due to a fundamental misunderstanding of how the process actually works.
Marketers commonly believe that, due to privacy and spam regulations, they are unable to contact consumers using e-mail if that consumer has not already opted in to receive messages from them. Although the spirit of that belief is correct, the direct marketing industry has perfected a way to legitimately solve for these privacy issues, while giving marketers some very sophisticated, high-impact options for e-mail-based acquisition activities.
For perspective: in the U.S., there are around 20,000 audience sources available to reach U.S.-based consumers via e-mail. Each source is broadly defined as a list of individuals and their contact information who share a specific set of attributes or activities that have been collected with the proper consents from the data subjects, allowing third parties to market to them.
These audiences include sources like: buyers of specific products (in-store and online); loyalty card holders; registered visitors at content and research websites; online survey data; self-reported data related to product interests; and dozens more.
Each audience data source consists of a specific list of individuals and its own combination of contact options that third-party marketers can use to reach them, including e-mail, direct mail and/or phone. Each source collects some demographic details about those individuals. Finally, and perhaps most critically, each source has obtained specific forms of consent from the individuals that allow third parties to contact them under certain circumstances.
Done properly, the consumer’s e-mail addresses are never sent to the advertiser; instead, the advertiser’s message is sent to the selected consumers via the audience data collector, with whom the consumer has a permissioned relationship. This gives advertisers the ability to select and reach out to these e-mail audiences with full, legal permission.
Executing a third-party e-mail campaign is pretty simple. The marketer and/or their agency develop the creative, which is distributed to the chosen audience data sources and thoroughly tested. Within a day, testing is complete and the dedicated e-mail is deployed.
The creative includes a “friendly from” in the e-mail header, which is the domain of the audience data source. The consumer’s e-mail client sees and accepts this white-listed domain, and, when using high quality sources, the e-mail is delivered with better than a 95-percent in-box placement rate. All opens and clicks are tracked and, within 48-72 hours, a performance report is delivered to the marketer.
High-volume marketers appreciate this approach for many reasons. First, the marketer reaches completely new prospects with each campaign, and each individual reached is explicitly qualified based on the marketer’s criteria. The marketer can “suppress” existing customers from the recipient list to ensure the message only reaches new prospective customers.
Also, all complexities related to opt-out, unsubscribe requirements, and spam complaints are managed by the audience data owner, relieving the advertiser of significant risk.
Third, the performance of the campaign is quickly and unambiguously knowable. The advertiser can test several subject lines and versions of the creative, and almost immediately see which are performing best.
Finally, marketers can design a customizable approach to re-contacting these same consumers after that first e-mail is delivered. Some marketers will send a direct mail piece to consumers who open an e-mail. Others will follow up with those who click on a link via social or mobile. Still others will add in digital touches after the initial e-mail contact.