E-mail marketers expect to limit their activity the week of Sept. 11 even though Internet use will probably be high that day as consumers go online to get news and send e-mail messages to one another.
“There's no rulebook on how to handle this. There's no right answer. It's a period marketers just need to get through,” said Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president of list firm Worldata/WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL, which also provides e-mail marketing services for clients.
While direct marketers are reportedly proceeding with their postal mail plans in September, spam issues make e-mail a more sensitive marketing medium, even in the happiest of times. Add the emotions of the first anniversary of Sept. 11 and you get a recipe for potential marketing disaster.
As a result, many e-mailers have decided to curtail promotional e-mail marketing programs during the week before and the week after Sept. 11, Schwedelson said.
“There are some mailings that are going out that are specifically related to Sept. 11, but we have seen almost every major marketer that we deal with come up with some sort of plan to address the issue,” he said. “Everyone is trying to be super-conservative.”
Though Web traffic and e-mail usage will increase, marketers are “not in any way, shape or form going to try and take advantage of it,” Schwedelson said. Even a statement commemorating the attacks may come off as insincere, he said.
Ditto for direct marketing services provider WFS Direct, Omaha, NE, which plans to avoid e-mailing its members Sept. 11. WFS Direct maintains a list of 12 million e-mail addresses of people who registered at sweepstakes site WinFreeStuff.com to whom it sends membership newsletters and promotions on clients' behalves. Though the file turns over about once a week, messages do not go out daily, so it's just as easy to avoid it, said company founder/CEO Stephanie Healy.
Last year, WFS Direct sent 6 million e-mails in the two days after the attacks asking members to donate blood and money.
“Being in the Midwest, we wanted to feel like we were doing something,” she said. This year, however, WFS Direct has no similar plans “unless someone comes to me with a really good idea. I don't want to seem like I'm taking advantage of the day.”
However, Healy said, the beauty of e-mail is the ability to use it to react quickly, so under the right circumstances the company's plans could change.
Meanwhile, the majority of e-mail service provider CheetahMail's retail client base, which makes up nearly half its business, has indicated that they plan to send commemorative messages Sept. 11.
“Some of them are right here in New York and were directly affected, so they don't think it's inappropriate as long as the e-mail is sensitive and doesn't say something like 'Stop by our store and buy a commemorative T-shirt today,'” said Ashley Johnston, marketing manager at CheetahMail, New York.
For clients of e-mail marketing services provider Digital Impact, the decision to e-mail depends heavily on what they're selling and their relationships with recipients, said Kevin Johnson, senior vice president of services at Digital Impact, San Mateo, CA.
“We don't think it's necessary for people to suspend all of their outbound communications,” he said. “That said, certain companies need to be more careful than others.”
Airline, hotel and other travel marketers, which account for 10 percent to 20 percent of Digital Impact's business, will suspend outbound e-mail marketing “for a couple days before and a couple days after Sept. 11,” Johnson said. However, senders of newsletters, technical tip sheets, weekly specials and other predictable and expected mailings think they have no reason to avoid e-mailing on that day, he said.
“A promotional message advertising low fares to New York City would probably be a huge mistake on or about Sept. 11,” he said. “Crafted carefully, it may be a fine message, but you have to know your relationship with your customers.”
Johnson also said it may be wise for marketers to suppress certain addresses on their lists — recipients in New York, Washington and Boston, for example.
Johnson said some clients in the financial services industry are shying away from e-mailing anything beyond operational and service messages close to and on Sept. 11.
“Because they were so directly impacted themselves, I think they're more sensitive to it,” he said. “It's a tricky time.”
As for what hardcore spammers and scam artists will do Sept. 11, it's anyone's guess. Immediately after the attacks, scammers sent messages soliciting donations claiming to be part of an “Express Relief Fund” or “Victims Survivor Fund,” according to a statement by the anti-spam group Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail.
One message reportedly claimed that donations would go to the Red Cross, but a link led to a Web site unrelated to the organization, CAUCE said.
Some attack-related spamming began within an hour after the attacks.