The Art and Science Of Third-Party List Selection

Whether generating demand for technology products or driving attendance to an event, third-party e-mail lists can provide access to a potentially lucrative audience that internal files fail to reach. This week's column will concentrate on selecting the right third party lists for business-to-business campaigns.

Last week, Jeanniey Mullen pointed out how poor list targeting can sabotage a campaign. Marketers' list selections can often be motivated by volume/budget parameters, and sometimes the right message is wasted on the wrong target. When paying for a third-party list, wasted messages means wasted money. Additionally, casting too wide a net with your communications means the relevance of your message suffers, leading to possible complaints.

So how do you make sure you're selecting the right lists and reaching the right audience? The answer lies in carefully balancing the following principles:



  • Commit to quality, not quantity
  • Demand relevancy, not waste
  • Leverage past performance

Commit to quality, not quantity...

First off, your agency/broker must share your commitment to quality. This means that your objectives are aligned and that you both seek to reach the right target with the right message. This is crucial because more volume often means over-delivering outside your target audience. Hitting the right target can mean higher front-end costs, but will no doubt put you closer to a bigger, more lucrative sale.

The group of lists you evaluate should meet your expectations for the opt-in/opt-out process, available selections, transmission frequency, and deliverability. At a minimum, all lists should meet CAN-SPAM and DMA guidelines. But priority should be given to lists that track deliverability and are committed to clear and concise opt-in/opt-out procedures. Additionally, pay close attention to the source of the opt-in--were users subscribing to a publication when they opted in, or were they filling out a survey?

Demand relevancy, not waste...

It's counterintuitive, but relevancy is often sacrificed in an effort to save money. Is your message/offer relevant to the audiences that make up the lists you are evaluating? If you're selling a product that is purchased and used by a specific group, make sure you are only looking at lists that are made up of that target. Trade publications, controlled-circulation pubs, and industry-specific newsletters/sites don't sound sexy, but subscribers are very interested in the products being discussed and will consider your relevant offers. The goal is to find a list that consists of the right group of people who will be interested in hearing from you. Sending your message to a larger audience that falls outside this core group can cause complaints and affect future internal and external efforts.

Leverage past performance...

Make sure you're connecting the dots between campaigns, as well as across segments and lists. When selecting lists for a campaign, past performance is integral. Metrics should include open rates, click rates, click-to-open rates, registration/sales rates, and deliverability. Track what you can and make sure you are informing all future plans with past results. And don't be afraid to retest lists (in small doses) that didn't do great in the past, keeping your history on that source current.

If this is a new campaign, test a number of lists with statistically valid sample sizes, and then set up a retest. Then, once you are set to go live again, you will be ready to only target the best lists.

Selecting the right lists is a combination of art and science, but a commitment to quality, relevancy, and performance will enable objectives to be met and result in a positive experience for both marketers and recipients.

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