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BTB Controlled Circulation: How to Build and Use E-Mail Lists

Before the Internet, there existed the first permission marketing relationship, commonly known as business-to-business controlled circulation. Of course, Seth Godin's terminology did not exist.

Simply stated, industry professionals with purchasing authority or influence requested a free subscription to a topically relevant magazine, containing a combination of editorial and advertisements. They qualified for the magazine by answering business-related questions. The publisher and circulation manager reviewed the responses and determined if the professionals were desirable candidates to receive the magazine.

If the candidates were approved, they became subscribers and entered into an information exchange, or permission marketing relationship, with the magazine. The subscribers provided demographics to the magazine in exchange for a free subscription. They realized that their demographics would be used as a sales tool for prospective advertisers as well as to verify readership to existing advertisers and for targeted third-party direct mail campaigns. According to Gil Aguiles of BPA International, “The total number of qualified recipients of BTB magazines for the June 1999 auditing period was 64,029,885.”

Over the last few years, magazines have added an e-mail address question to the qualification card. As you can imagine, some industries adopted e-mail early, while others have not made the move yet. Subscribers who provided their e-mail address anticipated and preferred communication from the magazine via e-mail. The early uses of e-mail by a magazine were for requalification of the subscription, surveys or electronic newsletters.

Publishers employing a multimedia strategy clearly understand the importance of relevant and anticipated editorial content in the magazine, on the Web site and in the newsletter. This is the core belief that has enabled the permission relationship between magazine and subscriber to expand to include third-party e-mail rental.

One particular publishing company provides all newsletter recipients with an opportunity to unsubscribe from third-party offers before receiving them. The publishing company transmits a third-party e-mail offer to a targeted audience. These offers must receive publisher approval and contain standard headers and footers, which clearly identify the publishing company sending the message. Additionally, the footer contains a quick and convenient way for the recipient to unsubscribe from future third-party offers.

Here's a quick recap:

The name, address and demographics are collected on a qualification card. This allows an industry professional to request a free magazine that will provide deep industry-related editorial and advertisements.

It is an exchange of information about an individual's responsibility at a company and about the company itself.

For the industry information, publications are available free of charge because they are supported by advertisers and other marketers.

Publications and publishing companies form strong, long-term relationships with the subscribers by providing them with information that is helpful to their business and career on a regular basis through the print magazines, Web sites and newsletters.

Qualification questionnaires and other processes ensure that advertisers reach the appropriate audiences.

Building a Responsive BTB E-List

Prepare the recipient. Allow all recipients to opt out of third-party e-mails before sending the first offer. The newsletter is an opportunity to introduce the recipient to the brand created for third-party offers and to the privacy manager/policy.

As e-mail addresses are collected on direct mail or Web qualification forms, an opt-out from third-party information is offered.

Target the offer. Use available demographics, such as business, SIC, title, job function and buying authority. Approve only offers that will be valuable to readers. Deny offers that are too general and consumer offers.

Respect the recipient. Every offer should come from the publishing company or the brand created for third-party offers. This co-branding leverages the relationship between publisher and reader. Schedule the delivery of offers, including circulation efforts and newsletters, to avoid overkill. Limit the number of contacts per day or per week. Process opt-outs immediately.

Effective Use of BTB E-Lists

Know your goal. What are you trying to accomplish with each campaign? Are you trying to sell a product, encourage registration or increase traffic or awareness?

In your message, immediately highlight the value proposition. Make it personal. Address each recipient by name whenever possible. Refer to the company they work for or the products they purchase. Have each message signed by an individual from your company.

Tease with the subject line. Make it creative but business-like; stay away from cute or sexy. Present a benefit or make a special offer. Don't copy from consumer marketing. Subject lines that sounded like a consumer offer, even though it wasn't one, had poor results. Don't use the teaser from your direct mail campaign. Conduct a split test for different subject lines.

Here are some subject line examples:

* We hold the key to your (system) solutions.

* Improve (specific function) with (product).

* Top (visibility) for your Web site!

* Find great deals on (product) at (Web site).

* Learn how to (specific function).

* (Specific function) kit — limited supply.

* (Web site) — A better way to source (product).

The average subject line is seven words.

Make your message brief and enticing. It should be fewer than 500 words. Keep important information on the “first screen.” Messages should be three to four sentences at a time with bullets in two links, one of which should appear on the first screen.

Avoid attachments and HTML mail unless you are sure your recipients can handle them. They can be very slow and irritating

Soft offers work best. They can be used to drive individuals to your Web site or to initiate a relationship by encouraging registration, offering contests or giveaways or training them through a Web-based online seminar.

Your offers can be updates for new product announcements or special offers, discounts or coupons, trial or free usage, hi-tech gadgets or games or white papers or studies that add value.

Two links are optimal, and they should go to the page with the offer. The second link also can go to the same offer page or to a home page. Code the links to track list performance.

Offer additional means of contact, such as e-mail, a toll-free number or a fax number. Some individuals can receive e-mail but do not have Internet access.

An opt-out statement is mandatory. Keep the opt-out clear and easy to use. For example:

* To STOP receiving [third-party brand] e-mails about ABC Software Inc., please click here: http://letters.brand.com/scripts/profile.exe

* [Third-party brand] was established to inform our readers of special deals, new products and other third-party offers that we believe you will find helpful in your business or career. To stop receiving all e-mails from [third-party brand], please click here and unsubscribe: http://letters.brand.com/scripts.

Combine e-mail programs with mail whenever possible. Direct mail or telemarketing lists will have better market coverage than e-mail lists. All individuals have a preference for a particular type of communication. Give them options.

A Successful Campaign

Most response rates are between 2 percent and 12 percent. The highest response rates come from very targeted offers, well-known brands, very soft offers and very short offers. Just like in direct mail, bigger ticket items will have a much lower response rate. General offers pull lower even if they have a lower price point.

Know your customer acquisition costs — return on investment — and your sales cycle. Set appropriate expectations. Track the click-through rate, the relationship connection, including the response to a soft offer and registration, and the resulting sales, both short-term and long-term.

Your Web site should come up very quickly without loading special software. Be technically ready. Welcome your prospects and thank them for coming to visit. Make good on the promise from your message. Provide information about your product or service.

Make it easy to ask for more information or to request personal contact, as well as to register and order. The offer can go directly to a registration page. Make sure prospects can find out more about your company before they register. “Forced” registration can alienate your audience.

List Sources: The Rented E-List

E-lists can be gathered through a number of ways. Individuals may opt in to a specific communication. They may ask to receive a newsletter. Consider whether they know to expect third-party offers.

Lists may be opt-in for receiving third-party offers. A request box should not be prechecked.

Or lists may be opt-out or prechecked opt-in for receiving third-party offers.

Some things to consider when deciding on an e-list:

* How has the name and address been collected?

* What demographics are available?

* How often are these individuals contacted via e-mail?

* How quickly are opt-outs applied?

Expect to use a header and footer. For example:

Because you are a valued reader of a [publishing company] publication or a visitor to a [publishing company] Web site, [third-party brand] is pleased to provide you with information on products and services that might be of interest to you. To stop receiving e-mail from [third-party brand], scroll to the end of this transmission for instructions.

The footer should include opt-outs.

Adherence to Association for Interactive Media guidelines — customer/ID sender/maintain opt-out — is a must. Spam is not acceptable. The risks of not adhering to these guidelines are negative Internet publicity on newsgroups or through blacklisting and permanent loss of customers or prospects.

When you are sending out the messages, you must consider whether to do so through a service bureau or in house. In addition, you must decide on the volume, opt-out management, response management and security. Flames, or nasty e-mail responses, can bring down your server. Track links and try “soft bounces” several times over at least a week.

Remember, it is a different medium. Relationships with customers can be greatly enhanced with e-mail communication. It is low-cost and personal. Many direct mail rules do not apply to this medium. Understanding and leveraging the difference will result in lower new customer acquisition costs and enhanced customer loyalty.

Building Your Own E-List

Sources of e-mail addresses are the Web site, order forms, call centers or telemarketing efforts and registration or warranty forms. Ask for e-mail addresses with every communication. Offer opt-out at acquisition.

Some database tips:

Send a confirmation to the individuals acknowledging that they have been added to your customer file. Include what kind of information they can expect to get from you.

Collect postal addresses at the same time. Use both postal and e-mail addresses in the merge/purge process to remove duplicates.

Provide an easy way for people to change their address and demographic information.

Ask if they want to receive HTML mail. It is much better graphically and can improve the response rate.

Remove opt-outs immediately. Give them a final chance to select information they might be interested in. If they do not, confirm their removal.

Make sure the data entry staff knows the rules.

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