Optas Targets Portal Members While Maintaining Privacy

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Optas Inc. is expected to launch an e-mail campaign tomorrow to test its new system in which companies can market to members of healthcare portal sites without seeing consumers' personal data.

Approximately 100,000 e-mails will be sent in the campaign, said Steve Smith, president/CEO of Optas, Wakefield, MA. The first drop is scheduled for Tuesday.

Smith would not reveal which company the campaign will promote, describing it only as a "large pharmaceutical company." He said Optas is partnered with RealAge.com, DoctorDirectory.com and another unnamed health portal to provide access to its site members, about 2.5 million consumers and physicians.

Last week, Optas struck a deal with the eHealth Alliance, an organization of about 100 small health portals organized by Sickbay.com, Melville, NY. The addition of site members from eHealth Alliance portals doubled the number of consumers to whom Optas has access to 5 million.

Using its Web-enabled system, dubbed Messenger Network, Optas can ensure that the e-mails reach consumers without revealing any personal information to the marketer. Smith said Messenger Network even screens such information from Optas itself.

Unlike a list broker, Optas does not sell its clients personal information about the portal members. Instead, it provides demographic information about the portal membership segmented into five categories: gender, region, age, interest and lifestyle.

Optas assumes certain characteristics about a consumer based upon where they live, such as average income. Using the five demographic segments, health marketers can decide how many and which types of people they want to reach, and Messenger Network delivers the e-mails automatically.

Messenger Network also automatically tracks responses to the e-mail campaigns and can deliver reports that the marketer can access online. Optas does not handle any design or creative work.

The health portals are paid per e-mail delivered to members of their site. Each portal is paid on an individual basis, depending how valuable the site membership is to marketers.

Optas is working to improve the information its partner portals keep on members, Smith said. Some have been lax in collecting data, although most have done a good job of collecting the personal interests of their members.

The system allows marketers to do rapid testing to gauge response rates prior to launching full-scale e-mail campaigns, Smith said. It also lets marketers build proprietary databases of their own from responses to e-mails sent to anonymous consumers through Messenger Network.

Optas refers to its system as "bubble marketing" on the idea that it provides marketers with a way to reach consumers without bursting the bubble of privacy surrounding each individual. Smith said he thinks eventually a privacy violation will make front-page news, and online healthcare marketers will feel the heat.

"We'll be there when it happens," Smith said. "That's the beauty we see in bubble marketing."

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