Say No to Spam; Build Files Legitimately

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The e-mail marketplace is probably the most frustrating arena to any direct marketing professional who has ever ordered a postal list or appended data to a record for database and later postal mailing purposes.


Just when the Direct Marketing Association got everyone moving in the right direction on privacy regarding the rental of postal names, along comes e-mail, and everyone is off in different directions.


There is probably a consensus that some permission is needed by the recipient of an e-mail. This article is not about opt-in or opt-out, or permission by the consumer or recipient of your e-mail. Those issues are being debated, and there is no consensus.


I want to discuss e-mail appending. That is the practice of adding an e-mail address to a postal file.


Just say no.


And yet, it is so appealing, especially to those that have built databases and have mailed these targeted, selected names, postally, for years. It is not the same game. Many reputable companies are getting involved in this practice.


It is wrong.


It is relatively easy to do.


Take your typical compiled business-to-business list of corporate names. Let's say it has the president's name for each company. In our scenario, the company is Acme Inc. and the president is Peter Jones. Many companies have their own domains, such as www.acme.com. If you create an assumed domain such as this and append it to the street address, you'll be close to realizing a 15 percent accuracy of domains to your street address.


If you would load those alleged domains into a base and couple them with several different prefixes left of the @ sign, such as pjones or peter or p_jones or pj or peterjones, most will fail as soft bounces when sent.


The nonexistent domains will bounce as hard bounces. There probably will be one that gets delivered. You've just created a real e-mail address that is mailable. It is also the worst kind of spam.


No one has given you the right to create that address. The soft bounces, those that got to a server but had no internal destination, were an annoyance to others. The correct address is an intrusion on the time, machine and intellectual property of the individual or company with which you've communicated.


It does not matter that the list you started with is a compiled postal list or your postal house file. If you do it, you are a spammer.


There is no easy answer to building a permission-based opt-in e-mail file. Whether you ask for the name on your Web site or in a postal mailing, or through rental opt-in files or sponsorships, the operative phrase is "you must ask." Some people say no, and that is their right.


Several direct marketing houses are offering appending services. They have not thought out the ramifications. If you use these services and get listed on various sites as an appender, you endanger your organization's reputation and marketing position.


There is also a good economic argument for not using this practice. The "created" e-mail name, though e-mailable, may not be the actual "used" e-mail address. I have, at last count, 12 e-mail addresses.


The addresses that would be created from the above description would not necessarily be the active e-mail address I use daily. In other words, you would have appended an inactive or defunct address that could be received, but not read. Your database would have "harvested" an address that would help ruin your long-term return on investment and would help corrupt your file.


A person who opts in on site A cannot be assumed to have opted in on all other sites. That is also a form of spam. Several more aggressive anti-spam groups are cross-seeding files to protect against this practice.


Direct marketers have always had a secret weapon. We've listened to what consumers wanted and, hearing their response, we responded in kind.


Today, privacy and the ability for a person to maintain his identity and exposure to a technologically open environment are taking center stage.


This is not the time for the legitimate direct marketing community to allow our long-term interests to be misinterpreted and limited by others.


Therefore, let's not use every bit of technology when we can build our files in the correct and acceptable formats.


Roy Schwedelson is CEO of Worldata Inc. and co-founder of WebConnect, both in Boca Raton, FL.

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