By Jon Maddison, UK Country Director, Epsilon International

One of the key objectives for many marketers is to increase the size of their email list as more customers generally mean more revenue. There are a number of in-house customer acquisition options available, including cross channel sign-ups, prize draws, in-store promotions and website forms or pop ups. Whichever strategies a marketer adopts they are always faced with the same initial question, How much data should they try to collect?

Time-stretched respondents typically favour short forms so there is normally an inverse correlation between the amount of data that is requested and the number of new sign ups that you will achieve. However, we as marketers are always striving to increase our knowledge about each customer so we can improve our targeting.

Having worked with many clients that have wrestled with this dilemma we would advise that you should take heed of your customers’ preferences. Avoid long registration forms when registering new customers, in order to make the opt-in process quick and easy. This way you will maximise your list size — your original goal.

If you feel strongly that you would like to offer customers the option of providing more information then consider making this optional, with additional questions on a separate page from a link marked something like: Want to tell us more? That way when your customer glances at your form it does not look too daunting.

Or, consider reducing customers’ workload by giving them the option to update your form from their social network profile automatically. Users can be given the opportunity to enter their Facebook login details, for example, on your email sign up page so you can extract (with their permission) personal information, such as gender, age and location directly from their profile.

However, do weigh up first how important this data is to you. Customers are not always keen to share lots of information, particularly sensitive personal or financial information at the outset of a relationship with a brand.

Once customers come to trust the messages, offers and promotions sent by your brand, they’ll be more likely to provide additional data when prompted. They may even volunteer more details through your preference centre, so they can tailor the contact frequency, type of message (e.g. generic newsletter versus special interest mailing) or content (e.g. product-specific offers) of your messages to make them more relevant to their interests.

Personalised welcome messages, bespoke offers and regular relevant communications are very simple yet effective ways to begin to build customers’ trust. But although these steps

are straightforward, research carried out by the Email Institute and Multichannel Merchants* shows that many online retailers have not yet focused on optimising the experience for new customers. 75.2% of 182 retailers surveyed, used a multi-step email sign-up process. And, some retailers miss out entirely on crucial communications; only 48.3% of those surveyed send customers a welcome email to introduce new customers to their programme.

You have a short window of opportunity to capture the interest of a new customer. You will make the most of it if you begin to communicate with them promptly, sending them the sort of content that prompted them to sign up in the first instance. Abuse their trust early on and you will have lost a valuable prospect. Treat them with respect and allow the relationship to develop over time, as you would with any other new acquaintance and you could find you have a friend for life.