Renting a rock star marketing list

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It's an ugly industry truth: it's extremely easy to rent a dud e-mail list. Whether it's a downright scam or simply poorly compiled, list rental can be hit-or-miss if you don't know what to look for. Here are four simple steps to take.

First, the proof's in the permission. When renting an e-mail list, you've got to make sure that all recipients have consented to receive e-mail. You need to require proof. This isn't the Old West. A hearty handshake and a verbal assurance from a list broker is not sufficient. Instead, ask to see the audit trail to make sure the subscribers are opted in.

Second, in the list rental industry, going with a well-known brand name is critical. Pay very close attention to the list source, because there is a world of difference between "Tennis magazine list" and "Tennis-lovers e-mail masterfile." The Tennis Magazine list is a subscriber list to Tennis, and you can bet anyone who subscribes is a die-hard tennis fan. The "Tennis-lovers" list, on the other hand, may operate under the "Who Doesn't Love Tennis?" mindset, meaning it could be a mish-mash of names scraped from various sports publications, or e-mails captured from anyone who has ever bought tennis balls at Target or anyone else under the sun.

Third, debunk the creative myth. I don't know what it is about the Internet, but it sometimes dupes perfectly smart people into scams. I have heard many people fall for the, "Oh, I can't show you any performance metrics because it completely depends on the quality of the creative!" list broker line. Of course your success depends in part on the quality of your creative, but mostly it depends on the quality of the list. Otherwise, why are you bothering to rent one?

Finally, apply the list marketing "petri dish" approach. Even if you think you've found a great list that meets all of the criteria and is going to make your company millions, it pays to start small. Do a 10,000- or 20,000-record test as a "petri dish" marketing campaign to make sure it meets your needs.  

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