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Starting the conversation: Adestra talks onboarding new subscribers

Adestra takes a look at how to build a customer database of emails and optimise it for the best results.

By StopPress Team | May 11, 2018 | Sponsored content

Step One: Acquisition

Q. What is acquisition in email marketing? Can't you just email anybody?

A. In email marketing, "acquisition" means adding a person's email address to your customer database in order to send messages. Implicit in that acquisition is permission – your subscriber or customer gives you that address in exchange for receiving email messages.

You can't simply grab a list of email addresses and start emailing. I'll give you two reasons why this is a terrible way to run an email marketing programme:

1. It's illegal in almost every country in the world.

Anti-spam laws in Australia and New Zealand make it clear that you must have permission to send commercial email. Besides these regulations, you also must comply with anti-spam and data privacy laws in other countries, most of which mandate permission.

Further, Canada and the 28 member countries of the European Union require email you send to their residents to comply with their laws even if you aren't emailing from an EU country.

EU countries such as the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece will be covered by the restrictive General Data Protection Regulation as of 25 May 2018. You can get up to speed quickly with this guide: "GDPR checklist: The boxes you should tick before May 25th."

2. You need high-quality addresses to run a successful email programme.

Email is different from other marketing media because success rides on the quality as well as the quantity of your email database. If you strive for quantity, you're just accumulating email records with no regard for data accuracy or for using the address to identify your customers as individuals.

All your shiny innovations – behaviour triggers, mobile optimisation, real-time messaging, 1:1 personalisation – won't make back their costs if your emails go to low-quality addresses.

"Low quality" addresses are out of date, invalid or throwaways that people used because they just wanted to get a download or enter a contest. They don't represent people who want to buy your products and services.

Sending to lots of low-quality addresses can even keep you out of the inboxes of people who truly do want to hear from you.

That's because you won't generate many – or any – opens from those addresses, and that will damage your sender reputation with the services that deliver email, such as Google/Gmail, Hotmail/Microsoft and Oath (Yahoo! and AOL). As a poor-quality sender, your messages will get blocked or sent to the spam folder more often.

"High-quality" addresses come from people who want to receive your messages and who will open and act on them. That's why permission is so important!

High-quality addresses have these trademarks:

  • It's the consumer's primary email address.
  • You validated the email address before adding it to your database.
  • Your customers gave explicit permission to use their addresses for promotional emails as well as other forms of email communication, such as transactional or account-related messages.

Q. Most websites have an email sign-up form. Where else can an organisation look to gain new subscribers?

A. Having a highly visible opt-in form on the homepage is the bare minimum. But you need to do much more to collect as many high-quality email addresses as possible.

An effective email program has two mantras:

1. "Be seen everywhere."

Here's a list of 10 locations where you should post your subscription invitation:

  • On product pages and landing pages tied to your search marketing
  • On your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media homepages
  • On transaction confirmation pages
  • In transactional emails
  • In your mobile app
  • On print materials, such as in-store signs, bags and bag stuffers
  • In print ads
  • On emailed receipts
  • In conversations with customer-support people
  • On product packaging

Remember that these locations are just the first stop in the opt-in. Each link or field should lead

to an opt-in landing page where you can show customers what they'll get for opting in and start collecting more data besides the email address.

2. "Sell the benefit, not the opt-in."

Nobody wants more email. They want better email – messages that reflect their needs and interests and deliver value every time.

Your No. 1 acquisition job is persuading consumers to give you their primary email addresses. This is the address they value most – the one they reserve for their most important uses, check regularly and protect from unwanted users.

You must win their trust and let them know that they can trust you to hold up your end of

the value exchange – what your email programme offers in exchange for their primary email address.

Collect the address on a dedicated landing page. This allows you to explain what your email programme offers – what subscribers gain by opting in and what they could miss out on. Include a sample email message. Sum up or link to your privacy policy. Help them make an informed decision to opt in.

Step Two: You have the email address. Now what?

Q. Why is onboarding new subscribers so important?

A. You could just throw your new subscribers into the middle of your messaging stream, but that can turn them off quickly.

You're better off using this "honeymoon" phase to send a specialised series of emails that warm up your subscribers gradually, train them to look for your messages in the inbox and remind them about the benefits of signing up.

Your onboarding programme has three goals:

1. Welcome subscribers with emails that remind them about opting in, restate the benefits and give them a task that takes them back to your website.

2. Begin collecting data that you can use to segment, target and personalise messages for higher relevance. Remember that the more relevant your message are, the more likely your subscribers will see, open and act on them.

3. Guide customers to their first conversions. These can be purchases, creating accounts, providing preferences, downloading information, registering for events or whatever you need them to do.

Q. What kind of data can you collect besides name and email address?

A. The possibilities are endless! But you must be smart. Even your most enthusiastic subscribers are going to back off if you don't go about it the right way.

Keep these best practices in mind:

1. Don't ask for too much data too early in your customer relationship.

Income, home address and other PII (personally identifiable information) might be crucial for your business, but you could scare customers away if you ask for too much too soon. Instead, ask for the data gradually, using surveys, a preference centre or a series of emails (progressive profiling).

2. Always explain why you need the data.

This is crucial when you ask for sensitive information. Frame your explanations in how it benefits the customer to give you this data.

3. Use the data you're given.

Customers do pay attention, even if you think they don't. If you ask for city, number of children or sports interests, use that data to segment your customer lists and target messages that reflect their answers.

If you ask for a birthday, send a birthday greeting. If you ask for location, be sure your emails reflect it.  

4. Explain clearly how you will use and protect the customers' data – and then protect it!

Phrase your explanation in plain language that doesn't need a law degree to decipher. Put it in your email, too. Don't just drop your customers onto your privacy policy page and hope for the best.

The ongoing string of data breaches has shaken customer confidence in big brand names and their ability to protect data. Keep that in mind and do everything you can to assure your customers that you are looking out for their welfare. Then, be sure you do it!

Q. Where and how can you collect data?

A. Data collection begins at the point of opt-in with the email address and continues through the whole customer relationship with your brand.

You can collect two kinds of data – directly from your customers and indirectly what you observe through their behaviour on your emails and your site. Here we'll cover the ways you can ask your customers for data.

The more data you collect, the richer your customer records will be. That helps you personalise and target your emails better and lets your customers know you recognise them as individuals, not just a faceless mass.  

You have three main sources for collecting data directly from customers:

1. Surveys

These don't have to be formal surveys that you would contact for from a research organisation. They can be as simple as asking a one- or two-question pop quiz in a special email. Some brands add a fun quiz to each message and use the responses to segment and target messages.

2. Preference centre

A preference centre is a webpage linked to the subscriber's account listing the subscriber's preferences for all the options you provide, from content interests to frequency and email streams.

Use one of your onboarding emails to invite new customers to fill out their preferences. Explain why this can improve their email experience with your brand. Then, be sure your emails reflect those preferences.

3. Progressive profiling

Progressive profiling gathers data through a drawn-out series of questions sent via email. Instead of asking 10 questions at once, you begin with one or two. Later, you ask a couple more questions that build on the answers from those first questions. This way, you build up a reservoir of data over time without overwhelming or scaring off your customers.

When you combine this self-reported data with what you observe from their behaviour, you can create messages that come as close as possible to one-to-one messaging at scale. That's the heart of First Person Marketing!

  • Contact Rob Hollier at Adestra: rob.hollier@adestra.com

This story is part of a paid partnership with Adestra.

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