List growth an indicator of economic growth

When healthy discussions take place in the Email Industry, they tend to give birth to new ideas. Collectively, we reinforce these ideas by sharing them with our peers through blogs and commentary. One such discussion covered the collection process of email addresses. Specifically, the topic was discovering more efficient ways to streamline the collection process among disparate legacy collections systems (many of which have been in place for years). Morgan Stewart of ExactTarget delivered an excellent piece recently, aptly Three Rules for Email List Growth and Simms Jenkins of Brightwave Marketing penned two articles on ClickZ that may interest you. Those articles inspired me to share a few thoughts on “future” list growth strategies; enhanced and accelerated through financial institutions. The size of your list matters, but so does the quality. And as your budget to grow your list increases or decreases, finding ways to replace unsubscribed addresses becomes more important than ever, because you run the risk of lower returns from your email channel. To potentially erase these deficits, we must create ways to replenish lists with sterile data and accelerate list growth. Economically speaking, with respect to list sizes, a sustained upward/downward trend in list sizes may be a key economic indicator of the overall health of the email industry. That said, financial institutions carry vast amounts of data on users’ purchase behavior. Your institution knows how often you travel, which retail stores you frequent, and how much you spend annually at your favorite restaurants. Additionally, they keep track of your verified email address. Because financial institutions collect this type of data, the list growth challenge may be overcome by forward-looking credit card companies, who in my opinion will eventually become chief suppliers for approved merchants who seek to build a permission based opt-in list of highly relevant verified email addresses.

Financial Institutions, key to buoyant List-Growth

The term co-registration makes me want to cringe, given that sometimes the collection process may not often deliver the desired results for the merchant in terms of relevancy. The challenge here is often that new subscribers generated through co-registration agreements; are not as engaged with your site/brand/products/services as someone who signed up at your own site. But if you are fueled by enhanced engagement, automation, clean data and profound relevancy, then imagine this: When you receive your credit card statement via email, you will immediately link to a list of approved merchants with whom you have conducted business. These merchants have already applied, were approved, and gave explicit permission to the credit card company to collect and confirm opt-in email addresses on their behalf. When subscribers receive their monthly transactional statement, they can navigate to a dedicated landing page that is devoted to approved merchants based on past purchase behavior. The list of approved merchants will be featured, and subscribers will be asked to indicate whether they wish to receive incentives and/or immediate benefits from any or all of them. When you check a box next to a certain merchant, you give your financial institution the right to send your email address directly to your selected merchant to begin a welcome series, confirming the original incentive. This type of list growth strategy is advantageous because of its relevancy, engagement potential, high credibility, and verifiably clean data. By registering people through an established, credible online identity (financial institutions), this method not only propels the email collection process, but ensures highly relevant and actively engaged subscribers. Merchants will be able to better assess cadence if their delivery messages resonate with subscribers, because subscribers generally respond favorably from merchants they’ve recently conducted business with.

Application Process for Merchants

Invitations will be sent to pre-approved merchants by Financial Institutions. These approved merchants will enter into a partnership with the credit card company and will pay the credit card companies a fee, either for each email address collected, or perhaps a performance based annual fee. Approved merchants may also be given the option for priority placement on the master merchant opt-in preference page during the collection process. Whenever a subscriber checks a box, the financial institution will forward the email address to the merchant. If the consumer chooses to use a different email address, a verification of that email address will the responsibility of the financial institution, thereby ensuring that the merchant receives clean data. For example, let’s say you shopped at Nordstrom three times last month, and also purchased an airline ticket with the same credit card. Assuming Nordstrom and the airline are approved merchants, and based on your activity with the card over the past month, you may see a list of these merchants organized either by how often you shopped, or by the amount that you spent. If you don’t already receive email newsletters from your preferred merchants, the option will be made available to subscribe by merely checking a box. I envision that some financial institutions may have several approved merchants for you to select. If, for some reason, you have previously opted-in to receive newsletters from your desired merchants, the option to subscribe will be unavailable (“grayed out”) and the next most relevant merchant will be accentuated. Of course the consumer will have the option to “opt-in/out” of the entire process. For instance, consumers may be able to choose an option like “don’t offer me any information on 3rd party email.” In addition, policies for “safeguarding” merchant applications will vary among financial institutions. Financial institutions will need to exercise diplomacy in their efforts not to disregard merchants who operate purely as brick and mortar businesses. By the same token, institutions must not exclude merchants who conduct all their business online.

Merchants, Financial Institutions, and Consumers Benefit

As is often true in life, all the parties involved with email list growth wonder, “What’s in it for me?” For approved merchants, along with faster list growth, verifiable data, and higher subscriber engagement, various elements provide the potential for optimal relevancy. Clean data and better engagement lead to higher inbox placement rates, which links to better ROI. In addition, with list attrition hovering at 30 percent, this method of email address collection is a great way to accelerate list growth for high profile merchants. For financial institutions, this is one more level of data that they can harness to profile consumers. Additionally, it offers a significant revenue stream, based on any number of revenue models, regardless of whether financial institutions charge an annual fee or a “per email address” fee. The question that credit card companies must consider is “Which financial model will merchants feel most comfortable with?” For consumers who don’t yet receive emails from merchants that they frequent, these emails can become a great way for them to capitalize on incentives. I think incentives can come in a couple of different formats. Wouldn’t it be great if merchants offered an immediate rebate on their portion of the bill? So, upon signing up, you’ll receive an immediate credit of $10.00, for example. Or better yet, give the consumer the option on incentives. For example, receive an immediate rebate of $10.00 now or get 20% off your next purchase. Whichever option the consumer chooses, the merchant will send a welcome message confirming that the subscriber has opted in and to receive the chosen incentive. Being informed of special offers from their favorite merchants will entice subscribers to “opt-in.” The performance of any list growth and retention strategy depends on the quality of data. The better the data is organized, and the more closely it aligns with the content generated by the merchant, the better any retention marketing program will perform. Fine tuning your lists and using “reputable” co-registration techniques will generate more revenue from segments. Using sophisticated list growth strategies such as these prevents email delivery from deteriorating and will have a dramatic lift on engagement. Questions: What about joint accounts? Credit Card legislation? Is the concept too reminiscent of Big Brother? Which merchants get invited first? Which financial institutions will step forward? These are the questions that will need to be addressed as advancements in email list growth processes mature. Further acknowledgements to Matt Vernhout of Thin Data for his “smackdown” before publication. As always Terms and Conditions may apply Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos