Though the proliferation of unsolicited commercial e-mail and subsequent government and media attention given it have affected e-mail list rentals, some positive things are happening with e-mail prospecting, according to list professionals.
“Business-to-business and business-to-consumer are two completely separate animals right now in the e-mail space,” said Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president at Worldata, Boca Raton, FL. “On the consumer side, e-mail list rental is being affected dramatically by all the press and all the [Federal Trade Commission] meetings that have been going on. The BTB side of e-mail list rental is still very strong and is not facing nearly the same backlash as the consumer side.”
Not only have consumer e-mail list rentals decreased but those still renting e-mail lists are making the process difficult by adding more paperwork, he said.
“There are a lot more contracts and agreements and other paperwork that is being required just to facilitate a normal list rental,” Schwedelson said. “The mailer is asking the list manager, list broker and list owner to sign off on things indemnifying them of everything possible that could take place as a result of the list rental. They're asking for indemnification for every local, state and federal law regarding e-mail in general.”
That goes far beyond the role that a list manager and broker normally play, he said.
Still, consumer e-mail is just one side of the story.
“Response rates are still good in BTB,” Schwedelson said. “People are getting smarter about what they're doing, and once the economy picks back up I think the BTB sector is going to explode.”
Of course, the massive volume of spam reaching people's inboxes has hurt open rates, he added.
A list professional specializing in e-mail lists said he is seeing successes in both BTB and BTC.
“We do have quite a few mailers that are extremely successful despite the current environment,” said Michael Mayor, CEO of NetCreations Inc., New York. “I've been doing e-mail marketing for about seven years now, and the most responsive campaign I've ever seen was just three weeks ago.”
Though he would not name the client, he did say that it was a consumer mailer with an unincentivized offer.
Mayor also said that some marketers even like the spam debate because it is keeping their competition away from e-mail and they have the market to themselves. An added benefit is the low cost-per-thousand deals these mailers are getting now, he said.
“I think that most people who haven't tried e-mail prospecting in the past aren't likely to do so now,” he said. “What you see are the people that have been successful continuing on.”
Despite the successes, another list professional said that spam is bad for most involved in e-mail marketing.
“Spam clearly has an effect on list owners, list managers and marketers,” said Richard Baumer, president of VentureDirect Worldwide, New York. “Alleviation of spam would definitely help marketers. When you get 100 messages a day in your inbox, it has to have an impact on response rates.”
A few of his firm's clients have backed off e-mail prospecting, he said, but did so reluctantly and have replaced it with other marketing media.
Baumer said that one troubling part of the spam issue is that consumers generally think all commercial e-mail is spam and often don't realize when they opt in to third-party offers.
As for a solution to spam, no one seems to have that figured out quite yet.
“I don't think there's going to be one solution but a combination of efforts that will get us there,” Schwedelson said. “I don't think that we're going to eliminate spam but I think it can be reduced.”
He cited as possibly helpful a Direct Marketing Association proposal of a “Gold List” of members who meet certain best-practices standards that could be forwarded to ISPs so they could more easily recognize mail from these sources and let it pass their filters.
Meanwhile, marketers will just have to do what they think best regarding e-mail prospecting.
“I think that the marketers who are shying away from e-mail are going to come back,” Schwedelson said. “The good news about what's going on is that marketers are getting much more inquisitive about the e-mail files they are renting.”