Good Common Sense for E-Mail Marketing

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E-mail marketing is evolving at a rapid pace as an increasing number of direct marketers deploy e-mail based campaigns and release new e-mail lists. Even our lexicon is changing, with new Internet-centric terms being added on a regular basis. Old terms phase out, and new terms phase in. Overall, the change is good.


The latest evolution relating to e-mail marketing is centered on self-regulated practices and good common sense: Permission based e-mail marketing further defines how we should ethically collect e-mail data for direct marketing purposes.


The establishment of true permission-based e-mail lists are essential for us as an industry to continue the positive momentum in the arena of direct response marketing via the Internet. So what, exactly, defines a permission based e-mail list? There are several key attributes that are needed for an e-mail list to be in rentable shape:


• Ask for permission to share the e-mail data with other vendors. This should be a simple, clear and concise message that states exactly the intent on the usage of the information. Copy that has been popular with many permission-based e-mail lists state "From time to time, we will share information with companies with products and services you may find of interest. Click here if you would like to participate in this program."


• Ask for permission in the same physical region that the e-mail data is collected. Too many times, during my own Web-surfing activities, I've seen copy buried in the fine print area of the Web site, only to provide visitors with a hidden or convoluted negative option. Rule of thumb -- if you're asking for the e-mail data put the permission clause right next to the entry field.


• Do not precheck the answer of "YES." Allow visitors to make their own decision and physically click a check box to give you permission to use their information.


• Make sure that the granted permission has a one-to-one correspondence with the Web site of the company which has an actual product, service or publication that was of interest to the individual in the first place. With this, the individual will most likely remember the company through the branding or uniqueness of the product/service, and, most importantly, will remember to give permission to use their e-mail information. In my opinion, this is very different than the mass-compiled e-mail databases. Each e-mail list should be individually identified. You cannot brand a database at this early stage of e-mail -- the consumer needs to understand the true source of the communication.


• Don't be afraid to ask twice. That's double permission, which benefits the approved list renter by providing a more qualified and responsive list. It also benefits the list owner who will enjoy added revenues from the continuation usages.


Also, you should take note that just because an individual submitted their postal name and address information (either via the Web, subscription, purchase transaction or registration card) it does not necessarily give you permission to match and overlay their e-mail address. There is no shortcut to obtaining more data at this stage of e-mail marketing.


While postal address/e-mail information is being collected and warehoused by several organizations, in my opinion, the use of such services will have negative repercussions throughout our industry. The bottom line is that while these individuals have given their mailing address -- they did not provide their e-mail address. They did not provide you with permission, either direct or inferred, to perform a match and append their e-mail address.


And while we, as marketers, will license data from external sources to append items such as age, income, or SIC code, the ultimate purpose of such overlays is to improve the targeting so that the recipients receive offers that will be more in line with their purchasing habits and needs. The appending of e-mail data does not enhance targeting --it simply changes the medium of delivery. Quite frankly, the appending of e-mail address information could be viewed as downright intrusive, and extreme caution should be exercised. This is the ultimate nonopt-in, nonpermission-based type of list or database. Years ago I said, "Just because the information exists, it does not make it marketable."


Combined, these guidelines make sense, yielding an end-result of a clean and marketable list that will be receptive to external offers. As we all push forward with this phenomenal electronic medium, the implementation of permission-based e-mail practices will make it better for everyone, especially the consumers.


<I> Roy Schwedelson is CEO of Worldata Inc., Boca Raton, FL, a list marketing, electronic marketing and database services company. His e-mail address is roy@worldata.com.
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