Prospect better to grow existing lists

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Four experts talk about their best practices for expanding and maintaining a robust and clean list of customer data in today's information age — where data comes from a multitude of channels and options

Greg Grdodian
President, Edith Roman-ePost Direct

Do you know what you're doing? That's not a personal question. All mailers should ask it when building their customer lists. It means, simply, do you have a plan in place?

If it's time to generate more top-line revenue, then it's time to grow your list. It should be done methodically, using tried-and-true direct marketing methods.

First, outline your goals. Are you looking for quantity or quality? Are you seeking prospects or immediate customers?

If it's quantity you want, you might be tempted to try social media, but you could end up with a glut of unqualified names. The best channels for generating customers are the traditional direct marketing ones. You'll get more meaningful data, and you'll have greater control.

Start by profiling your existing customer file. Match it against a comprehensive business-to-business database and overlay firmographic data like SIC and employee size and individual details, like text title. Once you've created your customer footprint, you are in the best position to acquire new customers.

Next, prospect through the traditional channels, such as direct mail, e-mail and telemarketing. You'll generate higher conversion rates when you use them together. And you'll learn more about potential buyers — for example, how they like to respond. If it's postal, send an e-mail to trigger response to a direct mail piece. These insights (and others) can be used when the prospects become customers.

Also, improve your ROI by negotiating multi-use volume deals. Don't drill down in a list to the point where there are no prospects, and stop mailing unresponsive names. Remember the IOU formula: Your copy should generate interest, offer a deal and deliver a sense of urgency.

Another way to build your list is through lead generation. Do you have a digital content library made up of white papers, e-books, webcasts and analysts' reports? Syndicate it through websites and newsletters, and through b-to-b co-registration networks. Prospects can be qualified with a couple of simple questions.

The Takeaway
Plan ahead, set reasonable goals and understand the anticipated ROI

Kathy Doyle Thomas

Executive VP of marketing/development, Half Price Books

Half Price Books understands a smart, well-targeted communication to our well-read and value-driven customers will increase motivation to come into one of our 110 stores in 16 states that sells new and used books and music. We mail coupons to our mailing list three times a year — March, July and November — and send out event news, sale information and coupons to our e-mail list every month.

For example, in 2009 we wanted to increase our list in time for the November holiday coupon mailing. We knew we had to get our employees involved for this program to be successful, so we decided to reward them by launching our "Great Mailing List Sign-Up Contest." This month-long promotion motivated our employees to sign up customers for our list through a competition with other stores in their markets. In order for a store to receive the "Golden Mailbox" (a $10 gift card for each employee in the winning store), the store had to hit the mark of 1,000 sign-ups. If more than one store in a district hit the mark, the store with the highest number would win the grand prize.

We kicked off our annual sign-up contest during the redemption period of the July mailer. Stores received signage that read: "Did you get these coupons?" and "Join our mailing list and enter to win a $25 gift card." We left the rest up to the individual stores. Many developed creative displays with mailboxes and fishbowls to help catch customers' eyes. Many also offered internal contests like pizza parties or coffee gift cards for the shift that collected the most sign-ups.

Each week the managers counted up the paper slips and entered the counts into a spreadsheet on the Half Price Books intranet. Knowing a weekly tally of sign-ups existed helped to motivate the stores to keep promoting the mailing list. In addition to signing customers up, it also provided a chance for our employees to talk to our customers.

From 2008 to 2009, we enjoyed a 104% increase in sign-ups from the competition's winning store. The 2009 contest added more than 165,000 names to the mailing list. Typically, Half Price Books adds about 20,000 names to the list over a three- month period.

The Takeaway
Combine your efforts with incentives, including motivating internal staff

Phil Davis

GM of marketing services, Rapleaf

The next frontier in growing your customer database - and where some of the biggest opportunities lie - is social media. Your social media presence is now a critical extension of your website and brand, and the content you share is quickly becoming the new bedrock of marketing. From blogs to creative videos, to regular tips, effective content does more than just engage hundreds of thousands of people; it can also foster action. Think beyond the purchase and keep your social media page fresh with unique content and programs like contests, surveys and customer testimonies.

One of the most important things you can do today is to identify your socially influential and passionate customers, and inspire them to become advocates of your brand. Even if they aren't the highest-spending customers, influencers can provide great reach to an entirely new group of customers.

After identifying who these customers are, build programs to learn how they use your products, expose them to new products, generate feedback and foster brand exposure to their extended audience. You want to focus on providing the best service to influencers first. Once that rapport is established, have them engage their friends through brand advocate programs like "bring a friend" special promotions or other loyalty programs. Influencer marketing is not something that can provide immediate short-term gains but when used to supplement existing outreach efforts, it can help to promote increased awareness and to grow customer lists more effectively in the long term.

Think of social media as a vehicle for powering your word-of-mouth marketing. By creating fresh and unique content, linking other marketing channels with your social pages and empowering influential customers, you will continue to leverage your social strategy to grow your customer lists quickly.

The Takeaway
Increase reach with content marketing; use social media to develop brand advocates

Mark Stevens

CEO of MSCO, and author of multiple business and marketing titles

The first rule to creating a community is to offer people something they want. Why would anyone willingly give over their information if they weren't rewarded with something — a discount, knowledge, an experience? This could include creating a survey because many people love to think their opinion is being heard.

Companies oftentimes forget to add all their personal and casual business contacts to their community list. Add every business card, social networking friend, employee and vendor you already know to your community. In addition, working with a list broker can be helpful in cleansing your list with updated information, as well as finding your true target demographic by profiling current members of your community list.

Include share buttons and "forward to a friend" on all e-mail blasts, blog with a "guest contributor" who will allow you to do the same and increase search engine traffic through website back links. Work through existing websites like Craigslist and Angie's List by linking to your e-mail sign-up page.

One of our more successful community-list building campaigns was when we were working with Wolfgang Puck to bring customers into its Bistro restaurants. We purchased a list of people living within a five-mile radius from the restaurant and mailed them a gift card and the new menu.

By giving people something they wanted, we were able to secure a 10-times higher success rate than the typical mailer. This brought people through the door who then spent more money than the gift card was worth, making their trip profitable. Many turned into loyal customers because we sent out the message that we cared about them as customers enough to pay to bring them in the door. From there, we tracked which households utilized the gift cards, profiling our confirmed community and updated our message, couponing and promotions as appropriate.

The Takeaway
Offer prospects a reward for participating and you'll increase your database


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