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How to Build an Opt-In E-List of Customers and Prospects

This may sound like a “duh” step in your marketing prospect, but not having an e-list could squash any real progress you make using emails and e-newsletters.

The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly’s The Content Marketing Handbook :

If you want to ramp up your online marketing program, your first step should be to build a large, opt-in e-list of customers and prospects (unless you already have one).

That’s because without a significant online “house file” (list of opt-in subscribers), you can only reach prospects in your niche by renting other marketers’ opt-in e-lists, which is hardly cost-effective: Each time you want to send another message, you have to rent the list again — and that can easily cost you hundreds of dollars for every thousand names on the list.

Some marketers buy databases containing the email addresses of business prospects in their niche market. This can work if you’re sending highly targeted emails on extremely relevant topics. But when you send email messages to people who haven’t opted in, you’re mostly asking for trouble. The CAN-SPAM Act, which established the rules for commercial email in 2003, doesn’t prohibit these messages. But people on these lists are much more likely to register spam complaints — and far less likely to buy from you.

The best online strategy for marketers is to build your own list of subscribers. This eliminates the cost of renting lists and prevents the spam complaints and lower response rates typical of non-opt-in lists.

When you own an opt-in e-list covering a sizable percentage of your target market, you can communicate with your prospects and customers as often as you think is appropriate at minimal cost. And by using a double opt-in process that requires new subscribers to verify their identity before being added to your e-list, you help minimize spam complaints and bounce-backs. In double opt-in, recipients subscribe using an online form. A pop-up window then appears, telling them to watch for a confirmation email asking them to confirm their opt-in. If they don’t confirm, they’re not added to the list. This prevents companies from registering other people for the list without their knowledge.

Listbuilding : Building Your E-list

There are many online marketing options for building your e-list, including pay-per-click advertising, postcard marketing, banner advertising, online ads in other marketers’ e-newsletters, B2B co-registration deals, video marketing, viral marketing, editorial mentions in trade publications, online article marketing, affiliate marketing, and social media — to name just a few.

When evaluating marketing methods for e-list building, you must weigh the cost of acquiring the new name and the value that name holds for your business.

To determine value, divide the total annual revenues generated by your online subscriber list by the number of names on that list. For example, if your 20,000 online subscribers account for $600,000 in annual sales, your subscriber value is $30 per name per year.

All In One Tools

Say that using Google ads, you can drive traffic at a cost of $7 per click. Can you afford that? Yes, because that means you get one new subscriber for every two clicks you make, which works out to just $14 per subscriber — within your $30 per new subscriber limit.

Would it make more sense to base the allowable acquisition cost per new name on the lifetime customer value (LTCV) of online subscribers rather than just the average one-year revenue per name? Theoretically, yes. But you can only do that if you’ve been marketing online long enough to have reliable numbers on which to base LTCV estimates. Until you do, stick with the revenue per year per name figure as the baseline.

Publish a Free E-newsletter

The best way to build and regularly communicate with an opt-in list of prospects is to publish and distribute a free e-newsletter on a specialized topic that’s related to your product line and of interest to your target prospects.

A free e-newsletter benefits your online marketing efforts in two important ways. First, it gives you a standing free offer — a free subscription to your e-newsletter — that you can use in your list-building efforts. Second, it ensures that you communicate with your subscribers on a regular basis, building your relationship with your online prospects while increasing the frequency of your branding messages and online marketing opportunities.

With the staggering number of free e-newsletters competing for attention on the internet, however, it’s not enough to have a simple sign-up box on your homepage. You should offer a bribe (typically known as a lead-gen) to get visitors to subscribe. The best bribe is a free downloadable special report in exchange for opting into your e-list.

For instance, if you sell supply chain management software and publish an e-newsletter called The Strategic SCM Partner, offer a short bonus report called 7 Steps to Improving Supply Chain Management in Your Enterprise as a premium for new subscribers.

Drive traffic not to your home page or a standard subscription form, but to a special “free-on-free” squeeze page—a separate landing page highlighting this offer. We call it a “name squeeze page” because it extracts or “squeezes” new names for your list from web traffic. “Free-on-free” means you’re offering free content (the report) to get people to accept your primary free offer (the subscription).

Also, put in place one or more mechanisms for capturing the email addresses of site visitors who don’t buy a product, download a demo, subscribe to your online newsletter, or take other actions that opt them into your e-list.

For example, when they attempt to leave the site without purchasing or registering, have a window pop up to capture their email address with the headline, “Wait! Don’t leave without claiming your free special report!”

The text explains they can get a free copy of your special report, “7 Steps to Improving Supply Chain Management in Your Enterprise,” by entering their email address and clicking “Submit.” If you’re not proactively making an effort to capture these email addresses, you’re leaving money on the table.


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