Are All E-Mail Addresses Equal?

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Electronic mail offers distinct advantages for direct marketers. It is faster than FedEx, cheaper than bulk mail and theoretically offers better database integration possibilities. By many measures, however, the large traditional direct marketers have been slow to embrace e-mail as rapidly as Internet vendors might expect.


For Internet companies, it is easy to say that these bricks-and-mortar operators just don't get it. But perhaps the bricks-and-mortar folks are looking for some value that they have not found. For example, take a look at lists and list management. The 40-40-20 rule tells us that 40 percent of the success of a mailing depends on the list. Should the rule apply if you are mailing to an e-mail list? Some would say that offline rules do not apply in the online world. The following is an alternative perspective, which refers mostly to rented e-mail lists but can be just as applicable to inhouse e-mail lists.


When a marketer rents a snail mail list, he can specify location by ZIP codes, gender and even ethnicity. (I have an Indian name and have been targeted by most long-distance companies, since presumably Asian Indians call home and talk longer than most ethnic groups.) Of course, when most e-mail list providers rent a list, they do not actually provide you with the addresses; you simply trust them to e-mail to their house lists given the criteria that you specify and the copy that you provide.


But, should all e-mail addresses be considered equal? Consider the following addresses: lueno@ntt.co.jp; Jim.Smith@-ibm.com; JimSmith129@hotmail.com; jeansparty@hotmail.com; JimSmith@earthlink.net; Linda@swmu.edu; and sxxxnow@-yahoo.com.


If you are renting a list of e-mail names, chances are that, all other things being the same, you will pay the same price for each of those names. But should that be the case?


You can tell simply from the e-mail address that the first recipient is likely to live in Japan. Depending on what you are selling, that may be very valuable information. Rosalind Resnick, co-founder and president/CEO of NetCreations Inc., New York, an opt-in e-mail service, said her company would offer such country selects, but draws the line at going further due to concerns about privacy. Since her company's data is permission-based, she is reluctant to target recipients based on any criterion whose use has not been explicitly permitted by the consumer.


Say you are in the business of selling software consulting services. Would you not be willing to pay a heavy premium to e-mail to the ibm.coms, hp.coms, gateway.coms of the world? Sure, some of those people will be receptionists at IBM, but this is a numbers game. Direct marketers bet every day that residents of Beverly Hills, CA, are more likely to buy a Hawaiian vacation than residents of Hot Springs, AR, are; the domain name is no different. Selects on the domain name involve no compromise of privacy, and the renter does not have to be told the e-mail address. All that is required is the ability to classify and select based on domains.


Suppose you are selling tickets to a sporting event such as boxing. Would it not be fair to assume that gender analysis targeting JimSmith@hotmail and JimSmith@ibm would be worth a premium? This is mainstream database marketing in the bricks-and-mortar world. Perhaps it is time that e-mail marketers started using such selects.


Tony Priore, senior vice president of marketing at yesmail, Chicago, another opt-in e-mail vendor, and co-author of a book on e-mail marketing, said his company can conceive of providing such database sorts if customers ask for them. He offers the same caveat of gaining permission from the consumer. Yesmail's targeting is based primarily on user-provided psychographic and demographic information, and he said they are interested in using permission-based information that boosts response.


In the physical world, a consumer may have a home address and a work address; a small percentage of the population rents post office boxes with the U.S. Postal Service or with private services such as MailBoxes Etc. Sophisticated marketers can resolve these addresses and target appropriately. Moreover, the National Change of Address database is invaluable in tracking people who move.


In cyberspace, the availability of Web-based free e-mail providers provides a special challenge. A person can have three, six or even 20 e-mail addresses. It is not uncommon for people to acquire single-purpose e-mail addresses when they have a party, sell a car or sign up for an online dating service. When the party is over or the car is sold, they stop checking those addresses. Yet services such as Hotmail let e-mail accumulate in unused e-mail boxes for 60 to 120 days before starting to bounce the e-mail.


If you are paying to rent jeanparty@hotmail.com after the party is over, you are wasting your money. Perhaps free e-mail addresses should rent at a discount to domains of recognized companies and the ISP dot-net addresses. It would not be hard to catalog the free mail domains such as Hotmail, About, Yahoo, Usa.net, etc. Direct marketers are likely to pay attention to such differentiation.


What if your target is college students? Would the dot-edu extension not be worth a lot more than dot-com? Sure, you would end up mailing to some professors and administrators, but you will surely pull better than if you ignored this variable.


The last address on the example list is not likely to be a great candidate for children's toys. You can tell just by looking at the address.


Perhaps it is time to demand such intelligence from our e-mail lists.


• Gunjan Bagla is vice president of strategic partnerships and corporate development at Dynamics Direct Inc., West Hills, CA. Reach him at gunji@bagla.net.
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