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Email Address Changes – Are You Ignoring This Critical Element of Your Email Program?

By Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations

James Joyce is quoted as saying, "Mistakes are the portals of discovery." I couldn't agree more, and have always felt that looking at the email marketing mistakes of others is a great way to uncover opportunities to improve your own program.

A good starting point is MarketingSherpa's recently released Dirty Dozen: Email Newsletter Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes. The free report includes some common mistakes such as "Designing Images that Appear as Red Xs," "Lame Welcome Messages," "Frequency Decisions Made for the Wrong Decisions" and nine more.

Starting with this edition of The Digital Marketer, I will be contributing an article each issue focusing on one or two specific mistakes. In this first "mistakes" column, I will discuss one of my personal biggest pet peeves--making it difficult for subscribers to change their email address.

This mistake personally hit home in a huge way when I was preparing to join Silverpop. I had dozens of subscriptions to industry-related newsletters with my email address from my former employer, and I wanted to update my subscriptions. While I wasn't very surprised, I was disappointed at the large percentage of newsletters that either did not provide a link in the email to update my email address or that just made it extremely difficult to change my address.

While I haven't seen any recent studies on address churn, the general rule of thumb has been that around 30 percent of consumers change email addresses each year.  Reasons for changing addresses include job changes, switching ISPs, switching to a personal account from a work address and others.

Revenue Impact Model
The impact of subscriber churn can be significant to your business--costing millions in both additional marketing costs and lost revenues. To illustrate, the following is a sample model demonstrating the potential impact:

  • List size = 1,000,000 subscribers
  • Address churn = 30 percent, or 300,000 potential lost subscribers
  • Acquisition cost = $15 per subscriber = $4.5 million to replace lost subscribers
  • Lost revenue = Assume 10 percent make a single annual purchase with an average order size of $100 = $3,000,000
  • Total potential economic impact = $7,500,000

Obviously, your inputs to this model might vary greatly, but I highly recommend creating your own model to understand the financial impact of subscriber churn. Then by implementing steps to reduce churn, you have the potential to deliver millions of dollars in revenue to both the top and bottom lines of your company.

Email Address Change Best Practices
Here are some quick pointers on improving your email address change process:

  • Include a "Change Address," "Update Email" or similarly titled text link at the top of your email in the preview pane area.
  • Alternatively, include the link in your main navigation, but at minimum in the administrative/subscriber area of your email.
  • Also, make sure the link is a text link and not image based.
  • Next, pass the subscriber's email address and preferences through to the update/preference page. Make it as easy as possible for the subscriber to simply change the address and hit submit.
  • Whether you pass their email address through or not, always include the email address they used to subscribe within the admin/subscriber area of your email. This serves as both a reminder that they may need to change their address, but also ensures they'll enter the correct address if it isn't passed through to the form.
  • If possible, avoid requiring the subscriber to enter a lot of information or login/passwords. The more steps you put in the way, the less likely it is that they will update their address. If your system or process does require a login/password--make sure you make it simple to retrieve their member name and password.
  • Use the opportunity to learn more about subscribers or reward them. Since they've made a conscious decision to maintain the relationship with your company, use this event to survey them on how you can better meet their email or other needs, how you can improve your emails, and ask them to update their preferences as appropriate. You might then reward them with a discount, white paper or similar incentive. Remember what it would cost you to replace them if they slipped away.

Do you have any "favorite" mistakes or your own suggestions or experience with the email update process? We'd love to hear from you. Please email your comments to

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