Growing Your Email File with No (New) Acquisition Budget: Get a Free Checklist

The pressure is on! Now more than ever, the email channel is being asked to contribute higher revenue. Yet, we all must make that happen with existing (or lower) resources. In a session produced for the Marketing Profs Digital Marketing World virtual conference (you can still visit and see some of the great presentations free until July 1, 2009), I discussed this challenge with three very smart digital marketers: Wendy Croissant, Email Marketing Manager for retailer Sierra Trading Post, Sal Tripi, a Director in Marketing with direct marketing powerhouse Publishers Clearing House and Stephen Gilberg, founder and CEO of HappyHours, Inc., a wine and spirits marketing services firm.

Many among us succumbed to the pressure to produce more revenue by increasing email frequency – thus generating some short term revenue gain. But we also churned the file, measured by increased subscriber fatigue, unsubscribe requests and complaints to the ISPs (when subscribers click on the Report Spam button), as well as depressing inbox deliverability and overall response rates. This is what we called the “perils of aggression” during our session. “It’s easy to be aggressive, to blast the file and think short term,” said Sal Tripi of PCH. “Some may also be tempted to lighten their standards by using older lists, doing append with loose rules, or buying a list from a lower quality source. This approach can leave you with a bloody lip!

“The harder way is to take the high road,” he said. “To take a longer term view and commit yourself to improving the subscriber value.”

Wendy Croissant of Sierra Trading Post agreed. “It’s not about following the letter of the law or the strict fact of an open permission grant,” she says. “It’s about respecting the spirit of the agreement you have with your subscribers to provide valuable data at a reasonable pace.”

In an industry (wine and restaurant sales) where merchants are struggling, Stephen Gilberg of HappyHours feels the pressure, as well. “Many wine retailers wish they had started six months ago to address this challenge by reaching out and forming new partnerships and testing new media channels,” he said. “Now they are caught and under pressure.”

Don’t find yourself in six months wishing you had started now! Here are six real world examples from the panelists on how they are building their email files, and increasing revenue, even in this recession.

1. Use pay per click search to drive new email subscribers. Wendy at Sierra Trading Post places sponsored links specifically for signing up for the Deal Flyer email newsletter for keywords around coupons and discount offers. “Many people want to sign up for a steady diet of coupons rather than just one today,” she said.

2. Customize the landing page to the source. Wendy tailors the offer to treat visitors from differently than those from She’s seen a significant rise in response on those pages, even when just the image and headline are unique to the audience.

3. Create ambassadors out of bloggers. Sal at PCH celebrates the “winning moments” when a member is awarded that big million dollar check. A video taken “at the scene” is shared with bloggers and via social networks in order to give it legs. Perhaps because of the recession, good news about an “everyday person” winning big is welcome and very viral. Don’t leave it to chance, though. Sal’s team makes it easy for others to pass along and share in the excitement.

4. Reactivate. Many email marketers try to “win back” lost subscribers who have long been ignoring email messages. It can be very hard to re-engage through email with subscribers who have been tuned out to your email messages. Sal uses his direct mail to reach out, but does so within 90 days of the last email action, so he knows the subscriber is still relatively “warm.” He also uses postcards which pre-announce an online promotion – encouraging use of email to stay in the know on winners and new sweeps.

5. Go social. Contrary to many rumors, social marketing (like email marketing) is not free. You pay for it in staff time and commitment, if not in advertising and measurement dollars. However, there is a low technical bar to participate, especially to monitor and guide those conversations already happening. Both Sierra Trading Post (@SierraTP) and HappyHours (@WineTwits) have active Twitter and Facebook accounts, where the conversation is not just to blast out offers, but to offer tips, buying guides and event notices. “We’ve run a few contests via Twitter including a logo selection, and have nearly 20,000 followers to our various wine and spirit themed accounts,” Steve from HappyHours said. “We find that Twitter can be very effective in both filling event seats as well as doing research on topics like, ‘Got any great inexpensive cabernet recommendations.’ We use that data to start conversations, but also to guide our merchants and producers.”

6. Capture everywhere. Steve misses no chance to connect with prospects and invites them to sign up for email alerts at every touch point. Customizing the invitation helps, he said. “We ask them if they want email reminders for this one event, or every event,” he said. “Choice helps them feel confident that we will respect their inbox.”

Bottom line: Be creative. Email marketers have more options than they might think. Move beyond the crutch of higher frequency and start to seek out email relationships that matter to your subscribers. They will reward you with loyalty, higher response and by “buzzing” about you with their own social connections. Want more ideas? Download the deck and a free checklist of other ideas here.

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