Email Marketing

Use Your Dead Data and Break Through Associated Inboxes

For 15 years, people treated email marketing the same way: “I’ve got a list, I batch, I blast, I send.”

With more data and sophisticated tools available, people are now choosier about what they allow into their inboxes. And the actual folks driving email are also making it harder to get into inboxes, to protect their value. So the question becomes, “How can we add value in our messages?”

We recently interviewed Rich Wilson, VP of Customer Experience at BrightWave Marketing, who explained why getting data to give you the right context is crucial to breaking through an inbox.

This post is based on his thoughts.

Dead Data

If you’ve got a company with millions of contacts, it’s likely that there are thousands of people that have been orphaned. There’s a large eRetailer, for example, that will purge any contact that hasn’t been active in nine months. They treat those people like strangers.

Whether you’ve got that list from a different source or it’s somebody who’s just been ignored, the level of engagement is gone. The driving factor must be, how can we add value? If we’re going to reach out to someone who has not been engaged with us in a long time, how can we make sure that what we have to say is likely to connect with that person?

The answer: context.

What to Do When a Customer Has Gone Cold

Obviously, some data signal is “probable” or “deterministic.” When a customer’s gone cold, you may have old history to look at and you may be able to get other web data that can connect to that. Here are a couple of signals you can use, and how to use them.

  1. Make sure they “are who they are” – Run the email through a cleansing or verification service. Don’t assume that they’re using the account anymore; don’t assume an ISP hasn’t turned it into a spam trap.
  2. How can you append this data? – How can you reach out to a service that might know something about a contact associated with this email address and give you some of those context clues to work with? If you have a history (which is always helpful), that tends to expire.

Be patient. If you’re trying to get the sale right away, you’re going to burn through that list. But if your intent is to get as much value out of the thousands or millions on your list, then instead of asking how to reach these people to sell something, ask yourself, “How can I help them?”

Email Frequency

A recent study said the chief reason for opting out (almost 50%) was “I receive too much mail from you.” You don’t want to drive your opt-outs, so how do you test toward those signals? How much frequency should you use during testing?

When you hear a customer say, “I’m getting too much email,” understand something: there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. If you have something incredibly relevant to give me every day, I wouldn’t mind it. Their response means you’re not sending the right emails.

For example, if I know you’re a hockey fan, wouldn’t it be great if I sent you emails that had a live feed of hockey game scores in it? So no matter when you check that email, it would update immediately with the scores. That’s something relevant to your life, and you won’t mind receiving that frequently.

If you have confidence in how relevant you can be, you have the freedom to send emails more often. But if you don’t have a high degree of confidence, then you should throttle back and do some testing.

One Slam-Dunk Tip for Testing

It’s all in the subject line.

We have a subject line that just says, “Bueller?” Open rate = 100%.

One of the most effective subject lines in history was from Barack Obama and was just, “hey.” Rich used to be a copywriter, and he looks at subject lines like billboards. You have to be short, and he likes creating mystery in them. Of course, the only way that works is if you have a reputation of sending something high-quality.

how to make use of dead data and break through associated inboxes

When it comes to testing, Rich likes to determine the mindset. This changes based on B2B or B2C.

Segment your list according to what you know and also based on where you think they might be in the journey. Before you devise some sort of email communication plan, it’s important that you put together what you think the high-level journey is, even if it’s on a whiteboard or the back of a napkin. That will act as a blueprint for how you engage.

If you want people to buy one time and then you’re done with them, it’s a very different situation. In that case, split testing is great. But if you’re trying to engage with someone over the course of time, you have to handle things differently.

One thing Rich likes to do is provide A/B choices in the emails themselves. If they click on the item on the left, it tells you one thing about them. On the right, another. You’re slowly gathering behavioral, demographic data.


Bottom line: You’ve got to start by having something to segment with. Any kind of signal.

Then try to do something smart with it.

This episode is based on an interview with Rich Wilson from BrightWave Marketing. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Corporate Data Show.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.


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