Controversial E-Mail Append to Get AIM Endorsement

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Certain to create controversy, a committee of the DMA's Association for Interactive Marketing has released a document outlining what it considers best practices for e-mail appending.


The Council for Responsible E-Mail released the "best practices" at the DMA/AIM net.marketing Conference & Exhibition in New York.


"It's not the DMA endorsing append. AIM is endorsing append. We're still an independent subsidiary," said AIM executive director Ben Isaacson. "The DMA process is a different process altogether. That's why it's not a guideline. I'm aware that this could be explosive. That's why we're calling it a work in progress."


E-mail appending is where a direct mailer's house file of postal addresses is matched to a file of supposedly opted-in e-mail addresses to add e-mail addresses to the postal records. Matches are said to be from 5 percent to 10 percent, depending on the quality of the file.


Demand for e-mail appending has spiked recently because of a confluence of forces:


· Customers who do business through multiple channels are known to spend more.


· With the economy still down and marketing budgets slashed, businesses are trying to shift their contact with customers to the fastest and most inexpensive channel.


· The phrase "integrated marketing" has practically become a mantra as Internet service providers struggle to get more of marketers' anemic budgets.


· And appending is viewed as a cure to one of e-mail marketing's main weaknesses: the lack of postal information attached to the addresses.


The problem is that many in and out of marketing consider appending spam. Anti-spammers contend that no matter how accurate the process is, appending will result in e-mail being sent to the wrong people. They also contend that the existence of an offline relationship with a customer is irrelevant and that without opt-in permission to contact a customer via e-mail, any e-mail sent to an appended e-mail address is unacceptable.


Even to some in marketing, appending is simply marketers' way of saying spam is OK as long as it's only done once. Also, some marketing sources told DM News that they view this as an attempt by appending service providers to use the Direct Marketing Association and AIM brands to give a controversial service more legitimacy and, therefore, make it easier to sell.


Al DiGuido, CEO of e-mail service provider Bigfoot Interactive, New York, heads the subcommittee in charge of drafting the document. Bigfoot offers e-mail appending services. DiGuido did not return a call for comment.


Meanwhile, people on the pro-append side of the debate contend that it is acceptable if there is a previous business relationship with the recipient or if the recipient is a customer. But even for those who buy that argument, defining "prior business relationship" and "customer" isn't as easy as it sounds. Hence, the CRE's "recommendations."


According to the CRE document, "customers are individuals who have purchased a product or service from the marketer, donated to the marketer, or signed up for a marketer's subscription service. A previous business relationship may be established through prior correspondence initiated by the individual, requests for information, responses to questionnaires or surveys, responses to sweepstakes or contests, or proven offline contact."


The document offers a series of definitions, each followed by recommendations, such as what to say in that all-important first e-mail when the marketer is trying to get permission to continue e-mail contact, and how to ensure the appending process is as accurate as possible.


The issue has drawn unprecedented participation with the CRE to the tune of 30 people on conference calls, a source estimated. Participants reportedly included representatives of e-mail service providers and appending companies, ad agency representatives and at least one major automobile manufacturer.


"This has gotten more interest than anything the CRE has ever done," the source said.
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