E-mail has a shot at becoming one of the most lucrative advertising mediums, but only if many good lists emerge and the bad guys are kept at bay.
Here's a radical idea to address the latter issue: Don't rent e-mail lists from people you don't trust. Think about it. What happens to lists that aren't rented? They go away.
I don't mean to knock the groups working to build a vigorous e-mail list industry. Their efforts will no doubt make a difference. But it's ultimately the responsibility of every person who rents e-mail lists not to be sucker-punched by disreputable list purveyors.
Look at it this way: You may be spending just 10 to 40 cents per e-mail address, but in total, this represents sizable cash. And your company's good name is on the line. Don't you have the right to have a real good idea of what you're renting?
Insist on it. To see good e-mail list practices in action, check out the handiwork of the mothers of e-lists, Deb Goldstein of IDG and Rosalind Resnick of NetCreations, or others who are consistently doing the right thing. If you're a list owner or manager, emulate their approaches.
You'll find that trustworthy e-mail list pros believe e-mail advertisers have the right not to spam people and that we're entitled to honest, complete and prompt answers to our legitimate questions before renting any list.
Let's start with the name of the e-mail list. Give me a choice between “Top-Spending Computer Titans” and “ComputerWorld,” and the decision is simple. If it sounds too good to be true, it generally is. Some marketers are so hard up for e-mail lists that they'll overlook misleading names that raise credibility questions from the get-go.
Next, there's the list description. This is where you're supposed to get a very precise idea of what the list is made up of. But often, the description just raises more questions. Get the Web address and visit the site. See whether it appears to be a good fit for your product or service.
Make sure you have all the selectivity you need. On consumer lists, that may mean product purchase, recency, demographics or other good stuff. On the business-to-business side, it's variables like purchase influence, industry, job title/function or company size. Watch out for multiple unrelated lists or merged buyers and inquirers that can be rented only together. Lists that have a high degree of waste rarely pay off.
Now, it's on to the all-important permission question. Were the addresses secretly “harvested” or did the people on the list actually opt-in to receive your e-mail? Be careful here because it's one thing to answer a direct question on a form and quite another to have the permission point embedded inside a lengthy contract hardly anyone reads. You can always ask your e-mail list rep to show you where the permission issue is dealt with online.
On a related note, is there an opt-out option for people once they start getting e-mail? Once again, be on the lookout for sleazy approaches because on some e-mail lists, the opt-out is a pain to use or doesn't work.
Understand how list managers handle the issue of relevancy. Are they letting anyone and everyone rent the list, or are they weeding out inappropriate appeals? This can work against you because some e-mail list managers with the wrong agenda have been known to reject legitimate advertisers.
If you'd like to send visual advertisements, ask whether people on the list OK'd receipt of HTML e-mail. Some firms count on the use of technology to detect the ability of recipients to handle e-mail graphics.
Here's a frequently overlooked biggie: How often is the list rented? Do they cap the number of rentals per day, week or month? I don't know about you, but I'd like to know whether my e-mail message will be one of 10 the same person well get from the same source at the same time.
Finally, before your message is blasted to thousands, insist on having a test run to check for typos and to make sure your URL is live. Seed the list so you know when your message was sent and how it actually came through.
The honorable e-mail list experts aren't looking to make a quick buck. They want you to come back for a rollout. But you've got to trust the supplier to give you a rollout that matches the characteristics of the test.
And that's the heart of the matter. Since you don't get to see the e-mail addresses, trust is everything. Go with high-character brands and people. Objective list brokers — not married to what they manage inhouse — have never been more important because they'll steer you away from lists with a low rate of repeat usage.
If your gut tells you there's something not right about an e-mail list, listen to your gut. Don't even run a small test. Don't give the less-than-honest list marketers a viable revenue stream. If we stick to our guns, this will work.