Lack of Merge/Purge Systems, List Data Constrain E-Mail Use

NEW YORK – Some of the industry’s top list brokers called on the big e-mail database companies Friday to establish systems for performing merge/purge functions on e-mail lists during a day of sometimes heated debate between old-world and new-world list professionals here.

“By far the biggest problem [with e-mail lists] is the inability to do merge/purge,” said Jay Schwedelson, vice president of Worlddata/Web Connect, Boca Raton, FL, and one of the organizers of the March 24 Direct Marketing Association List Leaders forum. The event, which drew about 40 attendees, was held to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing traditional list brokers in the age of e-mail.

Other points of debate at the daylong meeting involved the loss of traditional list employees to e-mail list companies and list brokers’ ongoing difficulties in working with Abacus, the cooperative database service that was recently acquired by ad-serving giant DoubleClick. Brokers learned that they probably would not be able to collect commissions for securing e-mail names through DoubleClick-Abacus, just as they have been shut out of the Abacus postal mail database, which works directly with mailers rather than going through outside brokers.

“We are brokers for our clients,” said Jonathan Shapiro of DoubleClick, who was grilled by attendees on his company’s policies for working with outside brokers. When the company combines its trove of detailed postal data with its e-mail names, which it plans to do eventually, brokers probably would not be able to buy those names for their clients.

Much of the day’s discussion, however, focused on brokers’ desire for e-mail list owners to begin to act more like postal list owners. The key barriers, however, are the fact that it is considered unethical to send unsolicited mail to someone’s e-mail address and the fact that the owners of e-mail lists control their own files and do not share the data they collect about their customers’ shopping habits.

“The idea of prospecting in the business-to-consumer context is not going to be successful, at least in the next few years,” said David O. Schwartz, president of 21st Century Marketing, Farmingdale, NY, and chairman of List Leaders.

The depth and range of data associated with names on postal lists simply are not available in the e-mail environment. Forum participants chided e-mail list owners for their skimpy data cards that have two or three pieces of information, as opposed to the extensive details available on postal list data cards.

“We don't have the selects on e-mail lists,” said Regina Brady of e-mail service bureau FloNetwork Inc., Toronto. “We don't have the recency data, the frequency data and the monetary data on e-mail lists that we do in postal lists, because the owners are keeping that for themselves.”

Leige Payne, national account director for, Chicago, said his company, which manages about 8 million e-mail names, is exploring the possibility of doing further segmentation to those names and adding more data. In addition, he said, established a branded list division through which the company will begin to manage lists by name.

Another point of contention at the forum was the use of click-through rates as means of measuring an e-mail list’s effectiveness.

“It seems that you all are citing these click-through rates of 5 percent or 10 percent, but that’s not sales,” said Andy Ostroy, a partner in ALC New York, a list brokerage and management company.

In the postal mail world, he said, a response rate of 2 percent or 3 percent is considered good because those are people who are actually buying a product. The two rates are often unfairly compared, he said, because the 5 percent or 15 percent of people who click through an e-mail link to a Web site do not necessarily buy anything.

Michael Tuohy of 24/7 Media, New York, said that the click-through rate was used because in many cases it is the only number available to the e-mail database mangers. It also is important to the Web site operators because click-throughs represent customer contacts and opportunities to present additional offers, and because many sites are able to monetize those click-throughs by charging the banner advertisers based on site visitors.

But participants in the forum said e-mail brokerage will not advance further without service bureaus that can provide merge/purge services to files of e-mail lists to eliminate duplicated names and changed addresses.

Brady suggested that mailers could do a lot of hygiene on their lists simply by mailing them and tracking the bounce-backs.

Schwedelson, in a rapid-fire how-to session for e-mail marketing novices that was loaded with tips and tidbits of practical information, said that mailers should not send entire lists at one time if they cannot perform a de-dupe on the names. That way, if some of the names are duplicates — the same name on multiple lists — they are less likely to receive the message at the same time from more than one list. He also suggested that the messages be varied slightly, for the same reasons.

Other lessons from Schwedelson’s presentation included advice for working with the large, so-called “blind” databases like PostMasterDirect, 24/7 Mail, YesMail and DeliverE. He said it is important to learn the sources for the names those databases provide from each mailing so that if the mailer decides to do a continuation, the composition will be similar to the first.

“Otherwise, your continuation will be a test,” he said.

Several participants from postal direct mail brokerage and management firms also expressed concerns about the migration of personnel from their businesses to the digital world. Various solutions were suggested, ranging from establishing separate companies for e-business where companies could obtain an ownership stake to emphasizing the quality-of-life issues that might be absent from a dot-com firm, where the hours tend to be longer.

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