Email acquisition and deliverability: how to avoid a head-on collision
You’ve set up a brilliant acquisition campaign, you’ve invested a lot of money and it’s working. You’ve collected 75,000 e-mail addresses in just two and a half months! As the icing on the cake, your boss personally congratulated you at the last staff meeting and you’re on cloud nine. You’re looking great, everyone admires you and smiles at you.
And then one day (let’s say late on a Friday afternoon, just to make it more dramatic), it all goes pear-shaped. This mess will stop you getting any sleep at the weekend… That is if your boss, the one who a moment ago was your biggest fan, doesn’t make you work the weekend, which is a real possibility.
It was the campaign of the year, the one that brought in 10% of the turnover, and to mark the occasion, proud as a peacock, you whipped out those 75,000 addresses you were sitting on. It was a chance to show your colleagues that your reputation was well deserved, and you made sure they sat up and took notice.
So what’s the problem?
Before getting into the reasons for the disaster, let’s talk about how you got into this mess. First of all, at 14:45, exactly 42 minutes after sending off the campaign, a customer service manager calls to ask you what on earth is going on. There must be a technical problem because their team has received 6,342 e-mails with incomprehensible codes and now they have to manually clean up the department’s inbox (yes, your bounces are going straight to customer service, although generally just a handful). In your defense, you tell them 6,342 is less than 10% of the new addresses, which is not the end of the world.
At 15:15, your boss, who does this every time, checks to see that all e-mails of the campaign have been sent. At 15:17, after having refreshed the page 16 times because he didn’t understand the numbers, calls you in a panic to tell you that 37% of them have not been delivered, which isn’t normal. You stall and tell him he just needs to be patient with the new addresses, which take more time than usual.
But in fact, you start getting sick to your stomach. At 15:33, that customer service manager calls you up again and it’s not exactly a courtesy call. Their team has received some 20 angry e-mails, all with the word ‘spammer’ in them. At 15:48, an e-mail from your e-mail platform’s account manager says your mailings have been blocked and that, without a convincing argument on your part, no other e-mails are going to be sent.
Now, you feel your desk chair is sucking you into the basement of the building and you would very much like to end up in another country, like, let’s say Bhutan. I hear it’s great this time of year.
OK, but what’s the cause?
It has several parts. Let’s talk about what you could have done or not done before, during and after your e-mail address acquisition campaign, but let’s start with the aftermath.
After – don’t wait to use the e-mail addresses
Generally, you need to start using the e-mail addresses during collection (see also the next point). Why? There are several reasons. On the one hand, someone who gives their explicit permission for you to send them e-mail communications (hopefully, it really was explicit) will not remember having given it a few days after. Consequently, they might have a negative reaction if you wait too long. Let’s not forget that a complaint ratio of 0.3% can easily lead to disaster.
Also, if you sit on these addresses, you will not have the opportunity to quickly eliminate incorrect addresses, which can be very problematic. Many spam filters work on bounce percentage thresholds, and it’s extremely likely that you’ll end up with a huge peak on the day when you start using your new addresses.
Before – set up a welcome programme aimed at your campaign’s prospects
To avoid the previous point, why not create a welcome programme? You could be daring and even call it PRM (Prospect Relationship Management). The aim is to start the dialogue right away with the leads that participated in your action acquisition campaign. This way, you can eliminate incorrect addresses both from the outset and on as you go, and also detect spam complaints. In a perfect world, your PRM programme will be separate from your loyalty mailings and won’t negatively influence their deliverability reputation.
With your welcome programme, you can also separate potentially strong leads from those who are likely to get bored quickly and weigh down your e-mail marketing strategy. Don’t hesitate to purge a point of contact very quickly if they fail to show any activity during your welcome programme.
During – your opt-in must be explicit
Co-registration, co-sponsoring, … the checkbox is not just to keep it legal. If you don’t tell participants explicitly why you are collecting their data for your acquisition campaign, you’re only asking for trouble. On the one hand, there are the real participants who risk taking offense at this use of their e-mail address which they hadn’t been aware of when filling in the form. And on the other, you will get caught in spam traps.
Before, during and after – don’t believe in fairy tales
If you work with a specialised acquisition agency, please stop believing in miracles and fairy tales. Nobody is capable of delivering 100,000 new leads per month indefinitely. After a while, databases run dry, the potential is exhausted and, to make up for the decline in recruitment, some will not hesitate to scrape the bottom of the barrel or use unscrupulous e-mailers in order to continue generating traffic and leads, often to the detriment of quality and deliverability.
During – consider the double opt-in
Ah yes, the double opt-in: discussed many times, but rarely adopted. It is perfectly normal to have reservations about the idea, as the percentage of losses in an acquisition programme is substantial when a double opt-in is requested. The best would be to carry out a huge A/B test over several months in order to gauge the profitability of the double opt-in, but that’s mission almost-impossible if you also want to check the differences in deliverability. Not that there won’t be a difference in reputation, but from an infrastructure point of view, it would be very costly to set up.
However, we have to remember that the two main curses for your deliverability are spam complaints and spam traps (trap addresses used by Internet access providers and the anti-spam industry). And during acquisition campaigns, you’ll land in spam traps, whether you like it or not! If you want to filter these addresses, the best way is to ask for additional approval by e-mail.
During – track your sources
What? You don’t have a TRAFFIC_SOURCE column in your file? If you’ve organised a great contest and a nice PRM programme, you need traffic to supply this wonderful lead factory. But the quality of the traffic varies wildly from one to another, so you need to be able to compare. By strictly monitoring which visit comes from which partner and by registering this information for each lead, you will quickly be able to select the most efficient traffic sources, not only on the conversion rate of your contest but also on the other stages of your welcome programme. Active leads are always better for your deliverability than mere numbers inflating your unusable contacts.
The quartet of quagmires: complaints, traps, bounces and inactive addresses
With acquisition, there are four great risks to your deliverability (as well as to customer loyalty): spam complaints, spam traps, incorrect addresses and inactive leads. During your acquisition phases and throughout your strategy, these four risks must be kept in mind. All your decisions must be aimed at reducing risk and optimising profitability. And even if your boss asks for the results in terms of volume of addresses collected, tell him it makes no sense and that it’s also vital to consider the profitability of the addresses in the long term.
Jonathan Loriaux, CEO of e-mailing agency Badsender: active for more than 10 years in e-mailing, Jonathan started his career on the technical side (e-mail campaign integration) before gradually turning towards strategic advice and deliverability. For six years, he’s been the author of the Badsender.com blog, which talks about e-mail marketing and eCRM news. Four years ago, Badsender became an e-mail marketing agency (advice, roll-out, and production), working for brands such as Sushi Shop, Natixis, Viadeo, Mondadori and many more.