The Slippery Slope of Email Acquisition
"Every marketer knows that one of your greatest assets is your email list. In the '90s and early '00s, relatively little attention was paid to how you actually built that mailing list; the focus was on building the biggest mailing list possible, and mailing lists were often bought, sold, or shared. Nobody really thought about the concept of "permission", after all email was the closest thing to free advertising and marketing you could get, and if somebody had an email address, it was considered fair game."
Every marketer knows that one of your greatest assets is your email list. In the '90s and early '00s, relatively little attention was paid to how you actually built that mailing list; the focus was on building the biggest mailing list possible, and mailing lists were often bought, sold, or shared. Nobody really thought about the concept of "permission", after all email was the closest thing to free advertising and marketing you could get, and if somebody had an email address, it was considered fair game.
So, back then, when one thought of email acquisition, they usually thought in terms of getting as many email addresses as they could to add to their list, or to have mailing access to a large shared or purchased list.
But that was then, and this is now. For at least a decade the reality has been that you need to have the actual permission of the owner of the email address before you put them on your mailing list.
Obviously this has put a crimp in how email addresses are acquired, and how mailing lists are built.
So what's a conscientious marketer to do?
Well, the first thing to do is to recognize and acknowledge these three basic facts of mailing list building and email address acquisition:
1. The size of your list ("LS") is far less important than the magnitude of the responsiveness ("MR") of your list.
2. The responsiveness of your list is the key to everything.
3. Permission to email can never be inferred, referred, or transferred.
The second fact may seem self-evident, and yet, even in today's spam-filtered universe, marketers (and their managers) often still focus on list size, rather than list responsiveness.
Again, the responsiveness of your list is the key to everything. Make it your mantra.
Let's break this down.
It's important to understand that a large number of email hosts and ISPs, and especially the ones that you probably care about, such as Gmail and Hotmail, take note of the responsiveness of the email addresses on your list. What percentage of their users actually open the email that you send to them? How many actually click your links? How many delete your email without opening it, or open it only to click "this is spam"?
Here's an example - to keep this simple, we'll use small numbers, but of course the real numbers are much larger.
If you send one hundred emails (LS = 100) to one of these ISPs, but only ten of their users actually open your email, your list responsiveness magnitude is at best only 10% (MR = 10%).
An LS:MR ratio of only 100:10 is pretty poor. The ISP's system takes note that 90% of their users to whom you sent that email didn't even bother to open it. And make no mistake, each ISP knows exactly how many pieces of email you sent to their users for any given campaign, and how many of their users interacted with that email. Have that happen a few times, and soon the ISP figures that they aren't going to give you access to the real estate of their users' inboxes, and into the spam folder you start going.
Remember that mantra? The responsiveness of your list is the key to everything.
Here it is the key to continuing to be delivered to the inbox, and staying out of the junk folder. If your MR is too low, the ISP is going to stop giving you a free pass to their users' inboxes.
The higher the MR side of that LS:MR ratio, the happier the ISPs will be, and the more users will get your email.
On the flip side, from where you are sitting, MR is the key to successful business. A highly responsive list is going to take the actions you want them to take. In the above scenario, that MR of 10% may not even tell the real story, because you may need those ten people to click on a link in your email, or to take some other action, and maybe only two of those ten who opened your email will take that action. That drops your MR down to an abysmal 2%.
And make no mistake, the ISPs are monitoring clicks as well as opens. So a low MR hurts you in two ways: it hurts your bottom line, because the people on your list aren't taking the actions you need them to take, and it hurts your email deliverability, because low MR lists tick the ISPs off, and they will start redirecting your email to the spam folder.
Again, say it with me: the responsiveness of your list is the key to everything.
Which brings us to our third point, and it is here that this all relates to email acquisition.
When I say that permission to email can never be inferred, referred, or transferred, what I mean is that the only truly legitimate way to acquire an email address is to get it directly from the owner of that email address, and to be sure that it is actually the owner of that email address who is giving you that permission.
This is why confirmed opt-in or double opt-in is the gold standard of email address acquisition. (It also happens to be pretty much the only way to prove that you genuinely had permission to mail the user, when confronted with a spam complaint.)
I can hear some of you saying "But what about that mailing list that I purchased that was guaranteed to be permission based or opt-in?" and others of you asking "This obviously doesn't apply to co-reg situations, right?"
Again, permission to email can never be inferred, referred, or transferred.
Nobody can guarantee you that an email address is permission based or opt-in for you, they can only guarantee that the email address opted in with them. And that permission can't be transferred.
Similarly, when a user signs up to receive mailings from your co-reg partner, they are signing up to receive emails from that organization, not from you, and because we all know that it is a rare user who actually reads that TOS before signing up, while they may have legally agreed to receive mailings from that organization's partners (i.e. you), they haven't really, in their hearts and minds, agreed to it. Which means that they are not going to be responsive to your mailings; they will either not open them (bad), or report them as spam (worse).
In these scenarios what you end up with is bigger lists, but lower MR. And as we all know by now, responsiveness is the key to everything.
There is a whole separate (but related) issue of the number of spam complaints that not having true permission will generate (and how the ISPs look at percentage of spam complaints), but that is another subject, for another article.
Bottom line: how you do your email acquisition affects everything related to your email marketing efforts. The higher your LS:MR ratio, the better your delivery to the inbox, the more value your list will have, and the better your bottom line will be.
Editors Note: Anne has generously supplied an White Paper on the ROI of Confirmed Opt-Ins which can be downloaded here.