Developing an E-Mail Acquisition Campaign

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What's the one thing that most successful companies and organizations have done to grow their lists?


Well, that's something of a trick question! It's not that they did one thing right. It's that they did 12 things right, and they did them continuously.


Smart marketers realize that large opt-in lists are the key to e-mail marketing. Your e-mail open rates and click rates are likely to fall within industry norms, so the more names you have, the more response you'll get from your campaigns. Rather than focusing all your energy on how to improve the click rate from 1 percent to 2 percent, I think you should pay as much attention as possible to expanding your list from 1,000 to 10,000 names.


If you are serious about building a valuable e-mail mailing list, you first need to recognize that you cannot succeed with a passive effort -- expanding your list is hard work. Sure, you can swap or rent some e-mail lists, but your best response rates come only when you develop your own opt-in list from within the ranks of your patron or customer universe.


And you should use all of the techniques you would use for any other type of institution-wide initiative you're accustomed to mounting, such as the annual sale or a membership campaign.If your goal is to build your list, I think the "campaign" approach is the most effective way. Here's a brief checklist of what you'll need before you start.


1. Buy-in at every level: You must make the case to every level of your organization, from the CEO to directors all the way down the part-time staff, that obtaining these e-mail addresses is as valuable an effort for the mission of the organization as anything else you're doing.


An effective way to rally support is to set a monetary value for the overall effort by attaching a dollar value to each e-mail name you collect. Let's look at a theoretical example using the Laboratory Theatre. Here's a fictitious theater company that has a 100-seat venue, produces four shows yearly with 10 shows in a typical run, and charges $25 per seat.


Let's say that the folks at Lab Theatre have done a great job developing an e-mail list of 10,000 opt-in names, and we know that when people sign up to receive your mailings, they rarely opt out (the average "opt-out" rate of our PatronMail clients is less than 2 percent a month).


Lab Theatre mails to this list for each show, with an average open rate of 30 percent, which means that about 3,000 people read the e-mail. Of those who do, 3 percent -- or 90 people -- buy two tickets each. (To put this in more familiar direct marketing terms, that's just under a 1 percent overall response rate.)


From that one mailing they generate 180 ticket sales at $25 each, or $4,500 of revenue. (That's about 20 percent of all their available seats sold with one mailing). For that mailing alone, the list would be worth 45 cents per name.


To get to the overall value of the list, multiply that by the four productions each season, and (assuming the response rate is about the same each time) the list is now worth four times 45 cents, or $1.80 per name. But that's just for one season. If one assumes the list has a minimum active life of three years, it's then worth at least $5.40 per name, or $54,000 for the list of 10,000 names (and that doesn't take into account list growth).


2. Participation at every level: As you'll see, many ideas that work best for building your list may be done outside the traditional marketing or development department. You'll need everyone -- from senior management to the box office, regular staff and even a parking garage attendant -- to agree to take some of their time to help you.


3. Create incentives: Nothing generates good feelings like rewarding your colleagues publicly for great work. You can reward individual efforts or entire departments. There's an energy that's created as soon as you create a "bonus" structure, which will far outweigh the cost to you of the actual reward.


4. Create a time frame and goal: Your e-mail acquisition drive should have a start and end date as well as a target number of e-mail names you'd like to capture.


5. Create a campaign plan: Just like a marketing plan for your organization, you'll need a formal plan describing exactly what you're going to do, who will do it, when it will get done and expected outcomes.


6. Internal communications: Develop an internal progress report for your campaign. We've all seen the fabled thermometer that measures success against a fundraising goal. These things really work!


7. Brand and announce the plan to the patrons/public: The other side of the equation is that you need to communicate this acquisition plan to the public. Create a catchy name for your campaign, one that you can brand with consistent artwork, such as "Spring E-Sign-up!"


With this groundwork in place, your list will grow and you'll be ready to move to the more tactical side of your work.


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