Build Better E-Mail Prospecting Lists

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Data processing techniques that have long served the direct mail industry have the potential to unlock a wealth of useful applications - and higher quality data - for e-mail marketers, too.


Since the boom of renting e-mail lists for prospecting, one challenge for marketers has been the inability to use standard merge/purge processing to remove - de-dupe - customer e-mail addresses from the rented e-mail data so existing customers do not receive messages geared for prospects. The reason merge/purge has been challenging is privacy concerns regarding the e-mail addresses.


This obstacle, though challenging, opens an opportunity for this industry to grow and create better e-mail products for marketers using technology.


Direct mailers have long used merge-purge techniques to create better postal data from multiple mailing list files. They can be creative with their data. They could take three or four lists, find who was on all of the databases and do a special mailing to those prospects because they were "super-qualified" or multibuyers. More importantly, mailers could suppress customer names and save money by not mailing to current customers. Another technique is to negotiate with different list owners and create a proprietary prospect database by combining the lists, remove duplicate names and then have a larger controlled universe to which to market.


Not surprisingly, the list and data processing industry has been working on solutions that address this opportunity to take e-mail marketing to the next level, tackling privacy and control issues at the same time. One solution that has been working for some e-mail marketers is match code technology that satisfies privacy/owner control concerns. If designed correctly, this process can offer 100 percent security of list owners' data. E-mail addresses never need to leave the possession of the list owner, and list owners get to do their own e-mail transmission once the match code merge procedure is complete.


Here's how it works: List owners and service bureaus use special software to assign unique match codes and owner-assigned ID numbers to the records submitted for merge/purge. A properly designed match code should be irreversible and undecipherable, meaning it cannot be converted back to the original e-mail address. Accuracy can be more than 99.5 percent.


For example, say a client wants to use four business-to-business e-mail files for a campaign to increase coverage. The client wants to remove duplicates but it also wants to see how many e-mail records appeared across files, and it wants to suppress its customers from the campaign.


After the merge/purge and suppression, the e-mail file containing only those unique match codes and ID numbers are then transferred back to each specific list owner. The list owner, using the proprietary software supplied, matches the ID numbers back to the original e-mail addresses and performs the e-mail transmission. The result can be a cleaner, more controlled e-mail campaign.


The concept, while relatively new, is gaining ground as demand increases for ways list owners can get more value for their product and get the job done while maintaining privacy pledges and preventing anyone from getting their hands on the lists.


Many traditional marketers are including e-mail in their campaign mix, and more than 3,000 e-mail lists are available - a number that grows every week. However, list owners still seem leery, even though this segment of the industry is growing fast and is hungry for better electronic databases and techniques to slice and dice the data.


Demand will only increase - and so will the need for merge/purge services. Here are some additional reasons:


o More sophisticated marketers will want to build permission-based e-mail customer/prospecting databases that will require the acquisition and retention of external e-mail data.


o More targeted lists will become available, resulting in higher duplication rates among files.


o With more mailers using the Internet, the amount of prospecting messages received by consumers and businesses will rise.


The list industry has the chance to move ahead with applying data processing technology to the electronic medium, preventing the growth of e-mail marketing from being inhibited. If you are not using merge/purge techniques on your e-mail data, chances are you are annoying, even alienating, your existing and potential customers by:


o Bombarding them - with many duplicate messages.


o Pitching to customers who already use your product.


And you are probably increasing your marketing costs.


As merge/purge software designers offer privacy assurances - pledges that owners will not have to surrender control of their lists - the industry is gradually shaking its reluctance to undergo a thorough weeding out of the names on their files.


Merge/purge techniques and strategies have evolved for postal lists. But the practice has been stymied in the electronic marketing sector. Once e-mail list owners and list managers explore the benefits and see that list privacy and control is not an obstacle, more e-mail marketers will reap the benefits. Also, with the elimination of multiple messaging, there will be fewer customer complaints, lower opt-out rates and increased response.


More persuasive arguments for merge-purge of e-mail data include:


o Higher opt-out rates among customers who receive multiple messages from the same marketer. Such customers often say they do not want to receive future messages.


o Multiple messages from the same marketer irritate consumers and lower results.


o Many mailers are hesitant to use external e-mail prospecting files for fear of sending prospecting messages to existing customers.


o Multiple messaging creates negative consumer sentiment toward e-mail marketing.


Admittedly, only a few companies have been using match code technology and are proving the concept. The industry needs to join these pioneers and continue to look for ways to take e-mail marketing and the quality of e-mail data to that next level.


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