Our customers’ contact information has always been critical to us direct marketers, but we have never seen such growth in different types of contact data as has occurred in the last 20 years. In addition to email address capture efforts, we’re about to see the need to capture social handles and mobile numbers as well. This will create a challenge for us to gather resources and attention necessary to capture these critical assets.

In fact, it does make sense to ask why we should embark on yet another contact capture project. What is the value in building yet another list of contact information across our customer base, given the significant resource costs involved? Here are three reasons:

  • Your customers expect you to be able to communicate with them across any of their preferred channels
  • Testing has proven that on average, a customer that chooses to permit a brand to communicate across multiple channels is more likely to be engaged and responsive – and have higher lifetime value – than ones who do not
  • There is significant ROI potential in listening and responding to the digital cues your customers leave in public that are related to your products and services – and you can’t effectively scale your listening and response efforts without (a) getting permission from your customer, and (b) linking their social handle to their customer ID in your database

The good news is, we learned a lot about capturing contact information from our relatively recent experiences building our email lists. Here are the three most important learnings to keep in mind:

  1. The old saying, “you can have two of the following three: cheap, fast, or good” holds true for capturing contact information – there are no shortcuts.
  2. Quality is more important than quantity, at least if you want to get a response from your contacts. That means you need to decide whether you want expensive and good lists fast, or cheap and good lists built over time. Chances are, you don’t have the budget for the former, so you need to get started doing the latter.
  3. It takes a lot of time to build a large, responsive list of contacts.

If list building takes time, then it’s time to start building that list now. In fact, if you’re just getting started on capturing social and mobile contact information, you’re late to the game.  As you move into 2012 planning – which is starting soon for many brands – think about your 2011 activities and where you could have inserted capture. It will guide you to establishing budget needs for social and mobile capture moving into next year. In the meantime, try these tips to get started:

  • Make sure you have a place in your customer data warehouse to put the information. If you don’t, see if you can use your email service provider or another partner’s database as a short-term storage facility for this critical data while you get things straightened out internally.
  • Instead of building landing pages and microsites for your campaigns, direct people to an appropriate social platform (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc), ask customers to join or like you in order to view the content, and then use a personalized URL to associate the email address with the social handle.
  • Make sure you offer enough value to obtain the deepest level of permissioning whenever possible.
  • Use your email channel to capture mobile opt-ins. If you don’t have an email address for a customer, capture that via SMS and then follow up with the opt-in request for mobile.
  • Identify alert-type servicing messages that can gain you entry to the mobile in-box by providing consistent value in between infrequent marketing messages.

Social and mobile contact information will be critical to brands in the next few years. Start building now so you can communicate the way your customers want to communicate with you.

Originally published on MediaPost.com’s Email Insider blog. View comments there.