Spend any amount of time with direct marketers and you’re likely to hear talk of list size. Most marketers will agree that engaged list size is a far more relevant measure than total list size. Yet lots of email marketers continue to be driven by the size metric alone. What’s holding us back is finding agreement on what engaged means, and that’s been tough to overcome since the nature and intensity of engagement varies so much by brand and product category.

One engagement model in particular that I think merits further discussion is the one employed by Nichole Delma, the Chief Data Officer at RCRD LBL, an online destination for free curated music downloads. I co-presented with Nicole and David Daniels of the Relevancy Group at the OTA Forum last month. How Nicole approaches engagement is that she tightly targets offers to her subscribers’ preferences, closely monitors their engagement and aggressively drops those who don’t respond. Since engagement is critical to attracting artists and labels to RCRD LBL, her list might be smaller but it delivers better value.

While Nicole’s tactics may not be suitable to all brands, the general strategy she’s applying is really smart, and something I wanted to pass along. As a starting point to converting to an engagement-based model, I’d suggest looking at your list turn, and by list I don’t mean some monolithic, unsegmented list but the individual segments you routinely mail. Determine how frequently you mail (turn) your list and let the number of engagement opportunities you’ve provided to recipients guide what you do if they’re non-responsive.

For example, you’d treat the recipients on a list you mail weekly differently than those on the list you mail monthly. Then decide what constitutes ‘non-engagement’ by looking at activity in email as well as other channels. Ask yourself why recipients aren’t engaged (targeting, content, cadence, channel, etc.). If you don’t know, seek to find out. Separate the disengaged from your main list and try different reactivation techniques over whatever timeframe and cadence makes sense. If unsuccessful in your re-engagement efforts, you will at some point need to move them into inactive status and discontinue mailing.

There’s no formula for doing these things that makes sense for every brand. But it all starts with a decision to make ‘engaged customers’ your primary metric, not list size. Not to do so is a very slippery slope that makes it very difficult for legitimate email marketers to differentiate themselves from the spammers. While not new, I believe these general steps are the right ones to take, and admire how the team at RCRD LBL is getting it done. You can read more on the topic in this ClickZ article from David Daniels of The Relevancy Group.