65.5 percent of marketers worldwide use email marketing to reach broad consumer demographics and it’s no wonder. Studies show that again and again, email marketing is still one of the most effective digital marketing channels available today. But sending too many emails to a reluctant, half-engaged audience is the equivalent of sender reputation suicide, especially considering that not too long ago, everyone was inundated by a tsunami of GDPR-related requests for renewed email opt-ins.

Many marketing managers today insist that bigger lists = higher reach and more engagement... Right? Wrong. Sending relevant communications with contacts who want to engage is proven to deliver better results than inundating ambivalent recipients. And moreover, tired recipients are more likely to report messages as spam instead of simply clicking “unsubscribe”. Ouch! There goes your email sender reputation!

Cleaning an inflated list makes good business sense. After all, over 65 percent of the average company’s business comes from existing customers. And the likelihood of selling to an existing customer is at 60–70 percent, the probability of selling to a new prospect only around 5–20 percent (Marketing Metrics).

Clean lists are key to engagement

With that said, here are five warning signs to look out for when it comes to managing your email marketing contact lists:

  1. Your bounce rates are escalating. Nothing says outdated and negligent email lists like rampant bounce rates. Run a report through your email marketing software to catch contacts with soft bounces; when the email address is temporarily unavailable (e.g. mailbox is full, the server is down). Erase these contacts after three strikes. Scratch all hard bounces that indicate the contact is permanently unreachable (e.g. the contact mailbox is non-existent or there's a typo in the email address) after the first offense, as hard bounces will fast-track your emails to fraud management tools like spam traps.

    Bonus tip: Although spamming is the last thing on your mind, it never hurts to check whether your IP or domain has ended up on DNS-based blacklists.

  2. The contacts on your list are not the ones buying your products or following your brand. Every marketer knows the value of identifying high-performers among customers. Start by investigating which contacts on your email list have bought from your company or followed you on social. On average, loyal customers are worth up to ten times as much as what they spent on their first purchase. Sending non-customers the same messages is a risky tactic- the content could very well miss the mark or worse, be marked as spam.
    But where do you get that data? This kind of analysis – blending contact info with purchase and engagement data – goes beyond pure-play email marketing apps. It’s the domain of integrated marketing clouds that connect rich profile data with omnichannel execution and real-time data capture.
  3. Your data sets are incomplete. Speaking of rich profile data, perform a deep dive into the quality of your data sets. Erase all contacts lacking info for a first and last name, as these are minimal requirements for any type of email personalization. Also, scan your list for role accounts (webmaster@ or info@ etc.) and merge any double contacts for individuals to avoid sending the same message multiple times to one person. Again, consider the advantages of integrating your email contact lists with data points from customer data platforms (CDPs) as they are the key to more personalized engagement.  

    Bonus tip: Get help personalizing your email marketing from artificial intelligence (AI) engines like Selligent Cortex, natively integrated into Selligent Marketing Cloud. AI engines can crunch terabytes of data on consumer preference and behavior to calculate the optimal send time and preferred device for each individual customer. And fed with accurate data sets, Offer AI creates on-taste offers for customers, injected into dynamic messages at the time of open.

  4. Your engagement metrics are tanking. Engagement metrics such as email open rates or clicks in a message not only reflect the quality of your reach. They also affect your email sender reputation, meaning how likely your message will reach the inbox in the future. Run a report to identify subscribers who have not engaged with your messages over the last year – or set your own period as a cut-off (half a year, two years) – and erase them. For a less radical option, you can send a re-engagement message to bring dormant subscribers back to life (if you still have valid opt-in, that is).
  5. You are getting more and more spam complaints. As already mentioned, some contacts will mark your emails as spam because they don’t remember signing up – even if they actually did. The impact goes beyond individual subscribers: Mailbox providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and others also log spam complaints. If there are too many, they’ll start sending your emails straight to the spam folder, skipping the inbox. Weed out spam complainers from your lists and keep an eye on unsubscribes as well: If spam complaints are higher than canceled subscriptions, perhaps your opt-out process is not working or too complicated.

Why less is more

So instead of focusing on new lead generation and expanding your email lists at all costs, the best email marketing strategy is probably to send targeted messages to specific segments of your customer base.

This “less is more” approach already delivers results for Selligent Marketing Cloud clients: International cinema company Kinepolis uses data from our universal consumer profiles to send fewer but better marketing messages. In the Belgian market, Kinepolis only emails an average of 7 percent of its database in any given mailing.

Why? Simply because, at any given moment, the brand may not have a message that is appropriate or relevant to their list. By focusing on relevant content and slowly building trust by providing only useful information, email engagement metrics and customer retention rates drastically improved over their previous email marketing strategy.

A future-proof investment

At first sight, list hygiene may appear like a lot of work. But you can get help from your email marketing software: In Selligent Marketing Cloud’s email marketing client, you can activate “Email Quality” and configure the level of strictness. (We recommend setting the email quality to “minimal” and bounce information on the very  first mailing to a list as “aggressive”.)

While you’re at it, you may also want to run a Permissions Pass on your list and snipe every subscriber without proper opt-in on record. Remember that in light of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), marketers are not only bound to obtain “explicit and binding consent” from every customer, but also store that consent for proof in case of GDPR-related requests (read our story on how to revive email lists after the impact of GDPR).

And sorry, there are no shortcuts to hammering out that highly polished email client list, even if “helpful” providers offer pre-built lists at low prices. For Selligent Marketing Cloud, purchased email lists are not allowed on the email Grid. So forget purchased lists and only use permission-based email sending.

Looking ahead, spending the time to clean up your email lists – and integrating your entire customer data sets into an omnichannel marketing cloud – is a future-proof investment. It not only builds a foundation for laser-focused email marketing campaigns that reach the audiences actually buying your products and engaging with your brand. It also creates long-term customer relationships built on mutual trust by treating every customer as an individual – not just an email contact.

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Getting emails into inboxes and in front of customers involves more than just hitting "send".Wwhether you're an experienced email marketer or someone new to the field, you're going to want to brush up on the newest terms and best practices to see whether your team is keeping up with today's top standards.

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