Ex-Brander Describes Journey to DM

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NEW YORK -- Larry Chase was a list owner for five years before he knew it.

"Lifetime value, cost per lead, list rental, deduping ... they're all the things that make up my world at this point," said Chase, publisher of e-mail newsletter Web Digest for Marketers.

"They weren't part of it 10 or 12 years ago," he told a room full of direct marketers in a Direct Marketing Idea Exchange Inc. luncheon keynote titled "From Branding Copywriter to Publisher/Listowner" at the Yale Club here yesterday.

In 1995, Chase debuted Web Digest for Marketers, available at WDFM.com, which now boasts 40,000 subscribers.

"I realized I was a publisher," he said. "What I didn't realize was that I was a list owner."

In the early days of his newsletter, Chase said, subscribers were asked to complete five fields of information, and 92 percent did so.

But by 1997, the newsletter's subscription form's completion rate had fallen to 47 percent. After eliminating all but one field, the one asking for the subscriber's e-mail address, Web Digest for Marketers' completion rate climbed back to 70 percent to 80 percent, Chase said.

Chase's list owner epiphany came in 2000 during the dot-com crash when advertising dollars that flowed so freely during the boom dried up.

As Chase repeatedly slashed rates and watched his ad revenue drop, he devised his standalone advertising vehicle "FYI," which goes to subscribers no more than once per week separately from his newsletter. He migrated his advertisers to the "FYI" e-mails and signed on with Direct Media to manage his list.

Chase since has learned that what he calls "informational loss leaders" work well in business-to-business e-mail marketing, as the marketer offers a free white paper, for example, in return for lead-generation information.

"This works better than 'Hi, I'm your new best friend, let's sign a $200,000 contract,'" he said.

These types of lead-generation approaches generally result in a 2 percent to 4 percent click-through rate, he said, adding that conversion rates depend on the marketer.

He also has learned that 30 percent of people who download a file will lie on the registration form.

Chase noted that major changes happen in e-mail newsletter publishing about once per year, the latest being the shift from text to HTML, or graphical e-mail.

"I was on the lagging edge of that because I was cheap and lazy," he said.

His first experience with direct marketing was as a copywriter for Young & Rubicam 10 years ago on an online ad for AT&T to be placed on Internet service provider Prodigy.

"I couldn't even get an art director to work with me on it," he said.

However, the ad drew a 33 percent click-through rate.

"It was the first time anybody had ever reacted to an ad I had written," he said. "And I realized that's where I wanted to be."

Ten years ago this month, Chase said, he began an online marketing agency with clients such as AutoByTel and 1-800-FLOWERS.

Chase recounted a time when replacing some copy on a Web page with "Don't click here if you have a life," lifted click throughs by nine times.

"That was my first experience with split-copy testing," he said.

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