The Risks (and Sometimes Rewards) of Not Following Best Practices

Posted by Stephanie Miller on

My esteemed colleague J.D. Falk highlighted the results of a test done by our friends at MailChimp that shows that emailing to an old file caused complaints and unsubscribe to spike dramatically, and for opens and click rates to drop dramatically. No surprise, right?

Yet, if I was a marketer only focused on results, I’d look at this data another way. I’d say, “Hey – I got 7,688 clicks on the ‘bad’ list and only 6,925 clicks on the ‘good’ list. I doubled my bounty! So mailing the bad list was totally worth it! Let’s do that again. Party on!”

How many of us have found ourselves struggling with this sort of situation? We know the best practice is to not email old files. We know the best practice is to refrain from emailing that extra campaign this week. However, at the same time we are under pressure to drive short term revenue. “The numbers are down, just send another email campaign.” And it works – the extra email campaign drives revenue.

In this case, not following best practices generated a lot of traffic. The MailChimp study doesn’t say if the old file clicks converted at the same rate, but let’s assume that they were at least comparable. There was some gold in that there old file. Of course there was a lot of shiny rocks, too.

Despite JD’s clever analogy of the now extinct Hominina, here in today’s down economy and holiday season push for revenue, marketers who break the rules sometimes end up making their revenue targets and getting promoted. In this environment, it’s really hard for email marketers to make a case against mailing that old file.

So if you do it, do it wisely and avoid extinction. (I’ve blogged about Reunion.com’s strategy here and about how to make the case for the true cost of email marketing here.)

If you are going to break the rules, be smart about it and make sure you have enough data to make informed business decisions. You need to know if the risk of complaints or brand degradation from annoying your subscribers outweighs the short term revenue. Consider these protections and optimization strategies.

  1. Make sure you mail from a distinct IP address, and quarantine the data to be sure it’s spam-trap free.
  2. MailChimp could never assess the value of this old file if they didn’t have the deliverability data. You must seed these mailings if you want to make good decisions about future mailings. Deliverability is a marathon not a sprint. Track as many campaigns as you can.
  3. Finding the gold in this file meant mailing the entire file. But next time, consider only emailing those who opened. Or be sure to remove records that have not responded in 12 months. Keep the old file risk to a minimum.
  4. Track the results all the way through to the bottom line. In this example, if the clicks from the old file didn’t return actual purchases/conversions, then they are worth a lot less. So when you do your ROI, be sure to use the numbers that are most meaningful for your business.

Although sometimes we feel like marketing strategy is equivalent to holding up a torch and peering into the dark, murky back room of a cave, in email marketing we have enough data to make good business decisions. Shame on us if we don’t take full advantage.


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