Merge/Purge Service Promises to Protect Recipients' Privacy

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Though e-mail list owners have so far resisted clients' demands for merges/purges, a new service from list services firm IntraSource appears bound to press the issue.

For several years, e-mail list owners have argued against merge/purge -- a practice from traditional direct marketing by which duplicate names are removed before mailing to multiple lists. The list owners claim that they need complete control over their lists to protect the privacy of list members. Mailers, however, claim that merges/purges are necessary to avoid the embarrassment and cost of sending duplicate e-mails.

"Merge/purge is one of the most serious issues facing the e-mail marketing business right now," said Rosalind Resnick, chairwoman/CEO at NetCreations. She said the lack of a standardized system for merging and purging lists held by different owners puts a damper on the entire practice of e-mail marketing.

"By far, the biggest problem [with e-mail lists] is the inability to do merge/purge," Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president at Worldata/WebConnect, said at a Direct Marketing Association list leader forum this year.

At the Catalog Conference & Exhibition in San Francisco late last month, IntraSource debuted what it called the industry's first system for performing privacy-protected merges/purges on multiple, separately-owned e-mail lists.

IntraSource has developed a software program that enables list owners to assign match codes and ID numbers to e-mail addresses. Then, acting as a neutral, third-party service bureau, IntraSource would merge/purge the encrypted lists and would deliver them back to the owners, which would execute the mailings themselves.

Through its software, called IntraMerge, and its clearinghouse functions, IntraSource seeks to soothe the two main concerns of e-mail list owners -- turning over control of their lists to competitors and maintaining their privacy pledges to list members.

"The issue is not the merge/purge itself. The big issue is that people do not want to release their names," said Greg Williams, CEO and co-owner of IntraSource, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Whether or not this service will make serious inroads into e-mail marketing -- it has not been tested yet by anyone outside of IntraSource -- it provides further evidence that list owners will be pulled into finding a merge/purge solution.

Eric Zilling, president of Impower, a Princeton, NJ, e-mail list broker, said he recently has convinced list owners to agree to merges/purges at the request of some of Impower's bigger clients. He predicted that by the end of 2001, most e-mail marketing efforts would be merged/purged. "Enough big players want it to effect change now," Zilling said.

Resnick said she has made it her priority this summer to encourage e-mail marketers to reach a consensus on merge/purge procedures. She said the list owners' resistance has so far held the industry back.

"The fact that companies like ours, Yesmail and 24/7 [Media] are not releasing their files, I believe, is putting a damper on the extent to which e-mail lists are being used by direct marketers," she said. "A lot of people in the industry have talked about this problem, but nobody's really done anything about it."

Williams said IntraMerge would give list owners an opportunity to take a step in that direction. Most list brokers and owners are familiar and comfortable with the technology of encryption and the idea of outsourcing to service bureaus, he said.

"Most of the power people who are the dominant players, I think, will embrace this product," he said. The company demonstrated or discussed IntraMerge with NetCreations, Yesmail, Impower and a few other high-profile firms. While many list owners still wish they did not have to deal with the merge/purge issue, they acknowledge that the time to begin testing merge/purge applications has arrived.

"I would be very happy if we never had to merge/purge anything with Yesmail and 24/7, but the mailers are demanding it and they should," Resnick said. She was impressed with the IntraMerge presentation and the way in which it would protect the privacy of the lists.

With IntraSource's merge/purge service, e-mail list owners receive the IntraMerge conversion software free of charge. When a broker or client asks the list owner to prepare its lists for a merge/purge, the owner runs the lists through the software. The e-mail names are converted into irreversible match codes. Those codes are sent to IntraSource and are merged/purged with similarly coded lists. Once complete, the merged files are e-mailed back to each list owner. The software matches the encoded data back to the e-mail names, and the list owner performs the e-mail delivery on its own.

For this service, IntraSource plans to charge the mailers an additional

$10 per thousand names. It is up to the list owners, Williams said, to determine how much of the cost to pass on to mailers.

Prior to 2000, IntraSource, which is owned by Williams and company President Lana Cardinale, operated under the name DTB Marketing Services. Its core business is list maintenance and fulfillment, and traditional database services for direct marketers. It also has experience conducting merges/purges in the postal list industry.

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