Are Email Appends An Achilles Heel For Deliverability And Strategy?

Last Thursday, I joined a friend for a pick-up basketball game, played (poorly) for 30 minutes, made a move on the baseline and ripped my Achilles tendon in half!  Four days later, I was in surgery, and I am now in a cast for the next ten weeks....arghhhhh!   What does this have to do with email marketing? Not a thing -- other than giving me some extra time to read up on all the latest email articles and putting me in the mood for a good fight -- I mean, debate! 

On Tuesday, I came across a blog post denouncing the use of opt-out email appends.  For those of you not familiar with the practice, it is essentially a quick way for marketers with large postal files to add emails addresses to their database.  For example, Acme Company sends their postal file to a database company, said database company matches Acme's postal records to the records in their database, and when a "match" is found with an email address they add that record (with  the new email address) to an "append" file.  The database company then does a quick "welcome" email to the entire append file with an opt-out only link and then ships the resulting file back to Acme company.  The issue with this process is that Acme Company now has a file that is NOT opt-in and could cause serious delivery problems for their business.



While opt-out email append is not without risk, if managed correctly it can be an excellent way for marketers to grow their email lists.  In these tough economic times, companies are looking for ways to accelerate the use of the email channel, essentially reallocating marketing budget from less "accountable" channels to email.  As experts in the space, I think it is our job to help them do so responsibly.  

We often look at things as black and white with regards to email best practices and deliverability. I understand and agree that from a delivery standpoint, email append can be a bad idea, especially if the senders simply add the append to their current list.   However, I think from time to time we should try and look at things from the marketer's standpoint.  If we know that they are going to go down this path, why not try to help them do it effectively?

Here are some thoughts on opt-out appends that folks should consider before deciding to throw in the towel altogether:

1. Only append active customer files.  Do not append inactive or "stale" customer files.  These result in poor match rates and are riskier than active customer files.  Furthermore, it is critical that these customers pass the PBR (Prior Business Relationship) test.  As a general rule, be sure that the customer has purchased and/or interacted with your organization in the last 12 months.   If you append bad data you will, as the article I read Tuesday suggests, destroy your deliverability.

2. Build an append-specific communication strategy.  You should not treat your appended email recipients the same way you treat subscribers that have been on your file for months and years.  First, make sure you isolate your append mailings from your core programs.  While I believe opt-out appends can deliver value to a marketer, we must accept that this file IS riskier than the house file.  As a result, keeping it separate limits any negative impact the program will have on your existing email campaigns.  Second, develop a series of communications that repurpose email content for the appended addresses, and be sure to place opt-out front and center and continually remind recipients how they ended up on the email list.  Be transparent; your customers will appreciate it.

3. Build rules to migrate append addresses to your house file over time.  As time goes by, proactively migrate appended addresses into your house file.  Migration should be based on specific recipient activity (clicks, purchases, etc.) Companies can build these rules to apply to their unique business models. 

    Of course, as with any other poorly executed email program, opt-out appends can negatively affect your email strategy.  But if executed correctly, they can add tremendous value quickly. In these tough economic times, what marketer can afford to ignore ways to reallocate budget to more effective direct channels?


    7 comments about "Are Email Appends An Achilles Heel For Deliverability And Strategy?".
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    1. Matthew Mcdaniel from self, March 19, 2009 at 11:41 a.m.

      On point number two, you mention transparency. Having spent time in call-center operations, I see a need to document in the customer file where their e-mail address was obtained so that the CSR can accurately respond when asked this. Handling the outgoing e-mail is only half the battle.

    2. Frances Dugan from Permanent General Companies, Inc., March 19, 2009 at 11:43 a.m.

      I really enjoyed this article. The only problem I see is that append-specific communication strategies are expensive and time consuming. I agree that *if* you have the resources, an opt-out append followed by a well thought out strategy to integrate appended email recipients is a great plan.

      However, without the time or money to dedicate to creating and managing an append-specific communication strategy (that works), an opt-in append is often a more viable option. Not only is it less hands on, but you can also rest assured that your append will not cause delivery problems that are sure to result in decreased ROI.

    3. Don Monell from Anchor Computer, March 19, 2009 at 11:47 a.m.

      Ryan -

      I read the same post that you are referring to and wanted to thank you clarifying the value of an email append if done correctly and with a reputable provider.

      Thanks again for speaking up.

      I hope you get back on the court soon!

      Don Monell

    4. Morgan Stewart from Trendline Interactive, March 19, 2009 at 2:18 p.m.

      Ryan, the issue with opt-out append is that the client is paying for too many dead addresses--it is not merely an issue of deliverability. As Frances stated, it is expensive and time consuming work with a limited upside compared to other list growth tactics. The allure of this tactic is the promise of "quickly boosting list size with customers that are already interacting with you", but the reality never seems to measure up to that promise.

    5. Matt Riker, March 20, 2009 at 1:07 a.m.

      Thanks for the excellent tips on effective opt-in email marketing. I have forwarded the link to your blog to <a href=""></a> customers. Keep it coming :)

    6. Paul Harvey from Market-that, March 20, 2009 at 8:18 p.m.

      I have not tried, I subscribe to a lot of list and the dump them quickly. If I received a bland email with an unsubscribe link I would just use it.

      I am not sure I would recommend a client use this route for list building. How about approaching the client through the existing contact information and giving an incentive to get the email address. Now you have an optin and permission to use it.

      All the Best

      Paul Harvey

    7. Tom Burke from TowerData, March 24, 2009 at 6:08 p.m.

      Hello Ryan,

      Great points. I think there are a lot of knee jerk reactions to email append without really taking the time to think through how it can safely and effectively be part of your marketing program. You've given some great tips on how that can be done.

      Append is not a replacement for growing your list organically, but it is a tool for expanding the reach of your marketing program and we've seen many companies succeed in using it by having the proper strategy and expectations.

      Tom Burke

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