Keep Your Email Database Current
May 2, 2000
Moving is a fact of life for many people each year, and while the U. S. Postal Service can help update physical addresses, tracking the web addresses of nomadic customers can be a real challenge for web marketers. Maintaining the accuracy of email addresses in your database takes extra effort that sometimes involves turning to traditional postal mail to stay in contact with your audience.
In the United States, over 40 million people move each year, and to help reduce undeliverables, the Postal Service's National Change of Address (NCOA) program makes change-of-address information available to mailers. Mailers can submit a file to an authorized service bureau and receive the updated address information.
Unfortunately, when people change their email address it can be hard to track them down to update your newsletter mailing list. However, by combining Internet technology with traditional offline marketing techniques, you can keep your customer file up to date, which keeps you in touch with your target market.
People change email addresses for a variety of reasons. For instance, when ISP customers become dissatisfied with the quality of service from a dial-up provider, they change providers hoping another ISP will do better. Another reason people change ISPs is because of the trend to move from dial-up service to dedicated broadband usage at home.
And just when cable modem users thought it was safe to surf, the phone companies have started running ad campaigns promoting DSL over cable modems. While the ads point out that sharing bandwidth causes the speed to decrease, the real problem with cable modems is privacy. While troubleshooting some problems recently, we watched everyone else's packets go flying through my cable modem at home, reminding us just how insecure cable modems actually are.
As more privacy-conscious consumers realize that sharing bandwidth means sharing the contents of their web and email with others in their neighborhood, there will probably be more flight from cable modems to DSL. And this change in providers means consumers will likely change their email addresses over and over again.
Email addresses also go bad from the use of free email accounts. Many people have found it necessary to keep their main email address private, and thus will use a free email account for public activities such as discussion lists and newsletters.
But many people who use free email accounts don't check that mailbox as often as they check their personal email account. Free email accounts, and some paid accounts, can hold only a limited amount of email, so many times newsletters and advertising email will bounce back as undeliverable.
Email messages sent to bad email addresses bounce back to the sender and can trigger an update to that person's profile indicating that the email wasn't received and needs to be updated.
If you use an outside newsletter mailing service, work with their technical staff on a procedure for receiving bounced email addresses. One technique is to have your service bureau automatically email bounced addresses to you in a database format. Then you can import them into your in-house database so you can match those addresses to your original customer file.
When people change ISPs or just abandon their free email accounts, many marketers write these people off as lost prospects. However, if they have made purchases and given permission for you to send follow-up mailings to them, you can use traditional postal mail to obtain their new email addresses.
An inexpensive way to contact them is with an attention-getting postcard telling them you've not been able to send your monthly newsletter and asking them to visit your web site to update their profile. Just include a URL to a page designed specifically for updating profile data on the postcard.
The cost of keeping track of an existing online customer is generally less than the cost of acquiring a new customer — even when we need to rely on postal mail — but setting up the processes requires effort. It takes having the right data management tools and techniques to move data between servers, because the target audience is truly a moving target.
Cliff Allen, Cickz.com