The Forgotten Art of Mail Dates

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It's time to dust off the marketing purpose of the mail date. Accountants of countless list owners and managers have learned how to base receivables around this marvel - now e-mail marketers must learn to use it as well, and for a true marketing need.

The mail date was set aside by the list owner and manager so no other usage would happen on that date. In some cases, time was blocked out on either side of the mail date. When the list owner used the list himself, whole weeks could be blacked out for that usage. The mail date counted - it was a negotiated item.

Of course, first usage is still a critical element when two or more direct competitors are vying for the same prospect. Frankly, there were fewer lists and smaller lists on the market in the direct mail days of confirmed mail dates.

There are still stories told as the mail date dissipated in importance. With the advent of merge/purge and the scheduling of mail drops surrounding palletization and postal discounts, the mail date, while important as a reference point, receded as an exact marketing device.

E-mail and the comparatively small universe of permission-based, true opt-in e-mail lists are about to require us to bring the marketing use of the mail date to the fore. Frankly, there are just not enough e-mail lists built properly on the market for all of us to use. That will change in time, but for now, we'll have to watch out or we'll trip over each other. The situation is totally analogous with the earlier days of direct mail.

E-mail (the opt-in, permission-based legitimate style) requires several things to be visible in the message received by the recipient:

• The name of the e-mail lists being sent must be stated. This allows the person receiving the message to recall that they did indeed opt in to that e-mail list.

• The service bureau or third-party sender of the communication must be identified so the recipient knows where the message is coming from and how to communicate with the sender if they wish to.

• There must be an option to get off the e-mail list if the recipient wishes to.

Because of the above-mentioned must do's, e-mail list ownership is not a hidden item. When you rent an e-mail list - you the mailer - the e-mail list owner and the sending service bureau are all known to the person receiving the message.

If the e-mail list is used (or rather the name on the e-mail list) more than once every few days, the recipient could become extremely frustrated. Even with opt-in, a flood of e-mails can get to anyone. They say the worst response to a business e-mail is from those sent and received on a Sunday evening. Monday morning finds many executives hitting a delete key just to get to a workable and readable number of e-mails from the pile sent during the weekend. Think what a negative feeling surrounds getting five e-mails from the same company during the same day.

This is where the mail date can begin to play a serious role.

A great many players in this field will rise and say they've taken the mail date seriously with e-mail all along. Well, don't believe it.

There's been too much of an education process for everyone to have hit the mark consistently. Without boring the nontechies who read this column, there are just too many items on the technical punch list for the newcomers to e-mail marketing to have worried about exact mail dates or revisions when they missed the date.

My advice: Give yourself or your client enough time to get educated. The technical aspects of e-mail marketing - plus the ethical questions and do's and don'ts - will take enough time for all of you to miss your mail date by at least two weeks. That will back you up into someone else's time slot, thereby ruining several mailers' probable early tries at e-mail success.

Roy Schwedelson is CEO of Worldata Inc., Boca Raton, FL. His e-mail address is

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