Opt-in, permission key to e-mail relevance: e-mail summit

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WASHINGTON - Best practices were stressed throughout the Direct Marketing Association's E-mail Policy Summit here last week and, in one panel, marketers discussed how best practices increase return on investment.

In a session titled "Marketers Best Practices for Sending Commercial E-mail," panelists discussed e-mail address capture, opt-in, permission and relevancy and how all these influence return on investment. The National Geographic, for instance, collects e-mail addresses at any point that a consumer comes to the brand, including on the home page, through search and in call centers.

"We don't have a huge e-mail list but when we put an opt-in on our home page where consumers could receive the photo of the day, we saw a 70-percent click-through rate with confirmation e-mails," said Lauren Skena, manager of online marketing at the National Geographic Society.

All of the panelists, including Rick Stamberger, CEO of SmartBrief, stressed the importance of asking permission to increase consumer engagement.

"We have an issue with a partners that a single opt-in at a conference allows you to send these addresses about any content," Mr. Stamberger said. "This does not work so we send confirmation e-mails to confirm that they want to receive the e-mail."

Permission is important to beginning the relationship but relevancy is what keeps the communications valuable to the consumer.

National Geographic uses segmentation to keep messaging relevant.

"It's very important that we make sure who is on the right list and to make sure that we don't send anyone more than one e-mail a day," Ms. Skena said.

"We send mail based on open and click messaging and are seeing much higher returns," she said. "The challenge is that we are not making as much money as when we send out to the entire list. We'd like to be more segmented but to do so we need more data."

Jeanniey Mullen, director of e-mail marketing at Ogilvy and Mather, said that permission-based e-mail is an opportunity for marketers in the business-to-business sector.

"Our average B-to-B client only has 30 percent of its client's e-mail addresses on its list," she said. "This is a problem because even though e-mail has been around for 10 to 12 years the ability to opt-in has not been there. Our opportunity around permission is that you have these clients that believe in your brand - how do you get them to say its OK to send them e-mails?"

Mr. Mullen reported having increased the e-mail database of one client by 25 percent by asking for permission to send e-mails after the customer made a purchase.

"This way you are doing it in a way that we are hitting the high quality people," she said.

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