Almost every time I hear about a company that wants to aggressively grow its list, inevitably, the terrifying topic of e-append or list rental comes up. I often hear that someone in a direct mail role did a "successful e-append" at one point in their career (usually 5 or more years ago) or rented a list, and that is why they want to give it a try. In today's environment of engagement-based inbox placement, these antiquated, old school list growth tactics are not only bad practice regarding permission, they also risk getting the rest of your opt-in mail bulked or blocked entirely.
So let's talk about some real methods to grow your list dramatically in a safe, permission based way.
1. Fix Your Site
First, optimize your existing website opt-in forms. I often see (or have to search for) opt-in forms on websites only to find that are very bland with just a field, minimal text and a submit button. Make your forms stand out. There are a lot of graphics, messaging and competing calls-to-action on any given web page, and if you want to get users to sign-up, you need to make them much more visible. Use a strong call to action and test out an offer that you subsequently deliver in the Welcome series.
2. More is Better
Second, add more opt-in forms to your site. Above-the-fold placements, below-the-fold placements, right rail, left navigation, dynamic layers that display based on site activity. Test them out to see how many more opt-ins you can drive. Test them out alone and in combination with each another.
One opt-in form on a page might drive X, while having two opt-in form placements on a page might drive 1.5X to 2X. At the EEC Summit in 2012, Tommy Hilfiger reported that they are driving 2% of total site visitors to opt-in by using a dynamic opt-in layer served to new site visitors on site entry.
3. Digital Entry Offline
I see very high bounce rates come from in-store sources for email addresses. There's several reasons for this: reluctant customers who don't really want to opt-in give you a fake address, store associates with a quota input fake addresses, or store associates key in the wrong email address when the customer tells them their email address. I personally know that more than half of people who try to spell my last name in my email address get it wrong. Is it Hoffman or Hofmann or Hoffmann or Hofman?
Let customers type in their email address themselves at the touchpad or credit card terminal. Again, give them an offer or benefit for signing up in-store. eReceipts are a customer benefit gaining in popularity. Be sure to get explicit permission when you collect an email address in the store, don't just assume opt-in.
4. Go Mobile
Fourth, leverage mobile. Consumer adoption of mobile sites and apps means that it is another important collection point for opt-in for both email and SMS text. Check out the Office Max mobile site homepage where they have 2 different opt-in forms: one for email, one for SMS. The Payless mobile app and the Bath & Body Works mobile app both have email and SMS opt-in coverage in several different placements.
Remember, this is mobile. Don't try to get users to fill out a ton of form fields. Keep the form short and simple and collect additional information later in the Welcome series using progressive profiling.
5. Be Social
Fifth, give your Facebook followers a simple opt-in form page and call out the benefits and differences between your social experience and your email communications. The Bath & Body Works mobile app is allows users to sign-up using Facebook Connect, exploiting the intersections between email, mobile and social.
6. Focus on the Quality
The problem most people have with list growth is that they mistakenly think it is a quantity game. It's not. It's all about quality email addresses. Identify where your most valuable, most engaged opt-ins are coming from. Then ask yourself, "How can I get more of them?" Test those ideas out, fully implement what works, eliminate what doesn't. Analyze, execute, optimize.
What's working for you?
What have you found to be successful opt-in growth strategies?
What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome them?