Editorial: Being Liked Is Overrated

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There's been much hand-wringing lately about market pressures on e-mail list owners possibly bringing about the demise of double opt in, or fully verified opt in. Double opt in is the e-mail list-building process where the list owner sends confirmation e-mails to new registrants to which the registrants must respond to verify that it was, indeed, they who supplied their e-mail address, and that, yes, they really do want to hear from the list owner and possibly marketers that rent names from the list owner. If they don't respond, their e-mail address doesn't get added to the list.


Double opt in is a perfectly fine way to build a list. We use it for our e-mail newsletters.


But it results in lists that grow 40 percent to 60 percent more slowly than single opt in, where the list owner sends a confirmation e-mail, but registrants need respond only if they don't want to remain on the list.


Double opt in's proponents say reconfirmation is such a small step, but that 40/60 number belies that. Anti-spammers also point out that the process eliminates the possibility of people forge subscribing one another into getting unwanted e-mail. True, but it's hard to believe that forge subscriptions are the epidemic that anti-spammers would have us believe.


Finally, they say, "Shouldn't marketers want to reach only those who want to hear from them?"


Well, no, not if they understand how direct marketing works.


It is certainly in marketers' interest to keep the Internet as spam-free as possible. And the argument that spam shifts costs from the marketer to the recipient is unassailable.


But whenever proponents of double opt in argue that it's the only acceptable form of permission and that direct marketers should strive to talk to only those who "really want to hear from them," they display a profound ignorance of the craft.


Direct marketing is a game of nickels.


DMers eke a fraction of a percent higher response out of a mailing and they're happy. Catalogers endlessly fiddle with product density on their pages trying to get each page to generate as much revenue per square inch as possible.


And by necessity, one of the more important manifestations of this tweak-here-and-there mentality is a constant, multifaceted effort to get people to spend money they didn't intend to part with.


Teleservices reps offer quantity breaks to get customers to buy one or two more widgets than they called for. There's the ever-present cross sell. "Would you like a nice lighter to go with that box of cigars, sir?" An increase in customers' average order frequency from 5.1 times per year to 5.2 times per year is considered a win.


Successful direct marketing isn't about being welcomed with open arms. More often, it's about not being shown the door.


Ask any consumer how many catalogs he wants per year, and he'll say one, maybe two. Follow his advice and you're out of business.


Real-life case in point: I'm on the Humor Network's Joke-of-the-Day e-mail list. Having been a bartender for five years or so in a previous life, there's hardly a joke on this often-corny list that I haven't heard.


If the folks at the Humor Network ever e-mailed me and asked whether I wanted to remain on their list, I'd more than likely opt out. If they ever e-mailed me and told me I had to respond to stay on their list, I'd certainly not respond and that would be the end of my name on their file.


Do I love hearing from Joke-of-the-Day? No. I simply haven't expended the energy to kick them out of my inbox yet.


As a result of this apathy, two weeks ago I received an offer through the Humor Network from RealBeer.com and subsequently joined RealBeer.com's monthly brew pub club. For $29.95 per month automatically billed to my credit card, I get a 12-pack of a different featured brew pub's beer delivered to my door each month until I cancel.


Think of how many people are on various e-mail lists and getting regular e-mail offers simply because they opted in once and haven't spent the energy to get removed. A resulting impulse sale here and there on a list of millions, and pretty soon we're talking real money, not to mention the repeat list-rental revenue for the list owner.


Understanding how important unintended buying behavior is for businesses of all sorts makes it clear why anti-spammers' occasional demands that an e-mail list owner re-opt in an entire list elicits incredulous outrage from the owner and belly laughs from everyone else in marketing.


Fortunately, the market is providing answers to this debate quite efficiently.


We welcome your views, opinions, news tips and questions -- by phone to 212/925-7300, Ext. 220; by mail to iMarketing News, 100 Avenue of the Americas, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10013; by fax to 212/925-8754; or by e-mail to ken@imarketingnews.com. Letters to the editor must be accompanied by a daytime telephone number and may be edited for space.


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