Your mailing list is broken.
And the bigger your list, the more broken it is.
If you were to send an email, right now, to your entire list, how many of those addresses would bounce? If you inserted a [FIRSTNAME] [LASTNAME] field in your email, how many of those emails would render an incorrect name?
If you were to send a targeted email to people in a certain zip code, how many of those people would actually live in that zip code and how many would have changed cities since they originally signed up for your list?
The curse of the email list is that it becomes instantly outdated – and the longer you’ve had your list, the more outdated it is. People change jobs, change emails, change physical addresses and even change names, but the information in your list is the same as it was two years ago when they first signed up.
The trouble is, you want to market to people as they are now, not as they were two years ago. That’s why your email list is broken.
Here are a few solutions companies try, in order of effectiveness:
1. Email everyone, asking for updates
– “We want to know if you’ve moved!” I bet you do. The trouble is, nobody wants to answer that email. People are either too busy or too disinterested to respond to that type of email. Effectiveness = low.
2. Run a survey to re-collect address information
– I once got a survey from my alma mater asking me questions about my educational experience. I had a good time sharing memories about dining hall food, favorite professors, and extra-curriculars, and then after I clicked “next” I got this message:
To complete your survey, please update your address and contact information.
I suddenly recognized the survey for what it was: an excuse to collect a new address and phone number so my university could call me up during dinnertime and ask me to make a donation. I felt betrayed, and closed the survey without sending it.
On the other hand, if you send out a really good survey that doesn’t feel spammy, you’re likely to get a better response.
We’ve written about surveys as an effective contact mechanism before, and if done right, you can get a decent response. Effectiveness = low/medium.
3. Offer a free item or coupon in exchange for updated information
– If you’re offering a good-enough prize, people are willing to go through the work of updating their contact information. Often they’re well aware that you’re collecting contact information for future marketing, but if they like your brand and like the offer, they’re willing to take the time to fill out the forms.
The problem with this method is that it only works for people whose email addresses are already valid. You’ll learn that JohnDoe@gmail.com has moved from Tampa to Tuscaloosa, but you won’t learn that JaneDoe@CompanyA.com is now working for Company B, because Jane’s email will go unanswered. Effectivness = medium.
4. Use a third-party service
– Believe it or not, there are services dedicated to tracking people’s address changes to help you keep your mailing list updated. Real-time address verification API services match names to addresses, correct false records and generally keep your email list as clean as possible.
These services work best for people who do direct mail campaigns in addition to email campaigns, as it is much easier to track physical addresses through the USPS than it is to track email changes. Effectiveness = medium/high.
5. Consistently provide valuable products and encourage customer interaction
– Here’s the secret: the best way to have a healthy, up-to-date mailing list is to consistently sell valuable products and encourage customer interaction.
This means creating a product that repeat customers buy at least once a year (prompting an address update at point of sale), continuously attracting new customers to replace the ones who have fallen off your radar, and sending out valuable, useful emails that encourage customer interaction while prompting people to update their personal information as their lives change.
In short, running a successful business. Effectiveness = high.
Image Credit: Myles