The Dangers of E-Mail Append

  |  January 22, 2009   |  Comments

You want to use e-mail append to create more effective e-mail marketing. But will it really help?

In this economic environment, many organizations want to use e-mail more effectively. List maintenance and growth are critical. The constant attrition from churn, unsubscribes, and complaints places a downward pressure on lists and presents challenges to marketers trying to maintain program efficacy.

Most organizations also have only a fraction of their customers' e-mail addresses. Eventually this leads to the topic of e-mail append.

I've written before about how to perform e-mail append successfully. While the advice is accurate, it doesn't express what I truly think about the topic. I can sum how I really feel about e-mail append with just two words:

It sucks.

There you have it. Many in the e-mail marketing industry think the same thing, but avoid saying so publicly.

Many marketers want it to succeed, especially those who come from a print direct marketing background. However, for many in the e-mail marketing industry, especially deliverability professionals, the problems and shortcomings of e-mail append are an open secret.

This clearly raises the question: why do people dislike e-mail append? Here are my top problems with it.

Old-Media Thinking

E-mail append is essentially old media, print direct marketing thinking shoehorned into the online world. When print direct marketing evolved, there was no realistic way for user preferences to be expressed.

A culture developed where permission was irrelevant. Personal data is bought and sold, lists are purchased, traded, rented, and appended all without concern for the recipients' wishes. The end result is that the marketing gets called junk mail and has commensurate ROI (define).

This kind of old-media thinking has no place in the new-media world. Online users are in control. What they do and don't want is important. Thus permission and preference have an enormous impact on your programs' success and your organization's reputation.

Some people argue that we're in a post-permission world where relevance is king. Nonsense. Permission is table stakes for entry. Relevance is key for an effective program.

Bad Premise

E-mail append is predicated on something that doesn't exist. To have useful match rates, the append company needs a large list. To perform permission-based appending, the list must contain people who have knowingly provided (at a minimum) their name, address, and e-mail address; agreed to receive third-party e-mail solicitations; and agreed to have their information sold.

Unfortunately no such list exists. This means e-mail append companies must use other sources and other processes to create a match list.

Depending on the company's sophistication and its ability to filter spam traps, complainants, and bad data, final list quality will vary. The best are quite effective at it, but in the end what you're buying is a non-permission, partially sanitized list.

Corner-Cutting

If you're adding people to your mailing list, at a minimum you should obtain their permission. The norm in e-mail append, however, is to perform an opt-out permission pass. This means the e-mail append vendor sends an e-mail to the matched addresses. Any who don't actively choose to be excluded in a manner the vendor recognizes are considered to have given their implicit consent.

This concept is flawed in so many ways it could have an article of its own. Suffice to say it's a symptom of append vendors' poor data and poor reputation combined with recipients' reluctance to be appended.

Another way of cutting corners is accepting address-only matches. Instead of matching a full profile between your list and the appender's, the match is performed on just the address. For example, a single-family residence is typically matched to a family member. An apartment block or a multi-business location could be matched to almost anyone.

Lipstick on a Pig

Many industry commentators, myself included, have given advice on e-mail append. Read it carefully and you'll notice it amounts to a list of tips and tricks to minimize e-mail append's negative impact and protect yourself from fallout if it goes wrong. The advice typically includes segmenting the appended addresses, sending to them on separate IP addresses to avoid reputation damage, giving incentives to appended recipients, and close monitoring to spot problems quickly.

Why such advice? Because we all know it can go wrong in a lot of ways. The best we can hope for is marginal ROI and list growth with low-value subscribers.

There are many effective ways to maintain and grow your lists. E-mail append is faster and cheaper than many in the short term. In general, however, I don't believe it's the choice of smart marketers who care about the long term and their organizations' reputation.

Until next time.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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