The list churn epidemic: how to diagnose, treat and immunize your database

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“Thirty percent of your house list changes their e-mail addresses annually or becomes inactive.”

This familiar statistic refers to an infectious disease commonly known as “list churn.” Every e-mail database suffers from it.

Where's the pain?

List churn reduces your e-mail deliverability, open rates, click-throughs, and overall performance. The net results? Decreased revenues and profits. Ouch!

List churn also forces you to spend more of your marketing budget on costly customer acquisition campaigns because, with a 30% annual attrition rate, your house file is shrinking before your very (watery) eyes.

Watch for these symptoms

Like gum disease, list churn is a silent killer so keep an eye out for its causes and symptoms:

Hyperactivity:  People move, they get new jobs (or lose them); they switch ISPs or just jump from one e-mail provider to another.

Irregularity:  If your e-mail messages are too frequent, your subscribers will get annoyed. If your e-mails are too infrequent, people may forget why they subscribed. Striking the right balance is critical.

Listlessness:  Does your content meet or match your subscribers' interests? Does it render properly?

Poor hygiene practices:  Are you properly vetting your e-mail sources and validating e-mail addresses before they get into your database? Are you swapping e-mail lists with others?  If so, stop this practice immediately.

Persistent aches and pains: Do you acquire e-mail addresses with low or no permission (e.g. are you messaging people who opted in to a different division of your company or sending emails to prospects that didn't ask for them?)

Is there a vaccine available?

Double-check your e-mail registration, validation, and messaging processes:

Have a clear, easy opt-in process and vet any third party sources very carefully.

Validate e-mail addresses at the point of registration prior to entering these into your marketing database.

Drop unsubscribes from your list immediately – you hate to lose anyone, but worse yet is gaining an enemy who clicks “this is spam” multiple times to send you a message.

Test your e-mails before every campaign to check your links and ensure your creative renders properly through the major providers.

Create an email preference center

Give your subscribers the option to adjust content, frequency, and format, and to update their e-mail addresses easily.

Preferences also allow you to segment your file and increase the relevancy of your messages.

Honor your subscribers' wishes

Be clear as to the e-mail content and frequency your subscribers can expect, and stay consistent.

Resist the urge to send too often or to send irrelevant or off-topic e-mail messages.

Despite best practices and good intentions, problematic and invalid addresses will find their way into your list, e-mail addresses will change, and a portion of your list will become nonresponsive. When this happens, be proactive and…

Take the Cure!

Utilize solutions such as ECOA (E-mail Change of Address), which can update the bouncing or inactive e-mail addresses in your file with guaranteed deliverable addresses for your lost customers and donors.

Develop a re-engagement program, including welcome back offers, samples or contests.

Survey your reconnections to discover why you lost touch with them and then develop a plan to counter these issues.

List churn doesn't need to be fatal. In fact, many companies experience greater open rates, click-throughs, and revenues from their reconnected customers than their existing house files that might be a bit tired. So take your medicine, get plenty of sleep, follow the steps outlined above, and your list will be healthy and productive for a long time to come.

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