Buying Emails? Practice What You Preach

You’re a media buyer who often plans email marketing initiatives to complement your clients’ banner, pay-per-search, and sponsorship placements. You’ve rented more email lists than you can remember, and you know your stuff. When it comes to negotiating rates, your cutthroat reputation strikes fear in the hearts of all sellers. But ask yourself this: At the end of the day, when the insertion order has been signed, the creative has been approved, and the client is perched on the edge of his office chair, waiting to see those pledged stellar results, can you breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the list will perform? Or is there a part of you — just the smallest voice in the back of your head — saying, “Please, oh great and mysterious forces of the Internet, make it work.”

If you’ve ever found yourself equating renting an email list to throwing the dice in a Vegas craps shoot, you’re not alone — but you’re probably in need of a wake-up call. Sure, we’ve all read the articles, and we all know the rules. First, find a targeted list from a reliable supplier. Investigate its source to confirm the validity of the names. Analyze the opt-in and opt-out processes to determine how and why Internet users signed up and whether they remain subscribed of their own free will. Inquire about list cleaning procedures to ensure that you won’t be mailing to a list of outdated or duplicate addresses. Ask the list owner how often the names are rented out to make sure that the recipients aren’t already exhausted (or, to borrow a clich&eacute, that your particular message won’t become “the straw that broke the camel’s back”). Demand average response rates from previous campaigns to gauge name quality. And above all else, sign up to the list yourself whenever possible to get a firsthand understanding of what might be going through the consumer’s mind and how she might receive and react to the message you are about to send.

Like any email buyer, you know the process inside out. But when was the last time you actually employed it?

Internet advertising is a fast-paced business. Offline, a client might expect to see campaign planning start six months prior to her launch date; online, she assumes it can be done in a week. Offline, media buyers might deal with the same sales reps season after season; online, a single campaign can engage dozens of different sites and involve an army of media contacts. The excuses for why we buyers don’t have the time or resources to launch a full-scale investigation into the birth and life of our next email list are plentiful. The reasons why we must do it anyway make excuses pointless.

With so many buys under our belts, we’re inclined to feel that going through these motions is an unnecessary step. We all have our favourite email providers whom we always go to first. If lists from a particular supplier consistently underperform, that supplier ends up on suspension and we move on to another trusted source from our small but precious vendor pool. If results are regularly in line with what we (and our clients) expect, then we are apt to return to these suppliers again and again.

What we often fail to realize is that results could surpass expectations if we just applied the rules we’ve learned to the practical situations that face us every day. Every list is different, and the fact that it bears the mark of a reputable organization or resides under the umbrella of a company that is steadfast in the quality of its lists is irrelevant. The last thing we want to do is get into the habit of blindly putting our faith in those whose primary concern is acquiring our ad budgets. If we don’t ask for information, it won’t be offered to us. We may become the ideal client in the eyes of our vendors — trusting and undemanding — but we are betraying our own primary objective: doing what’s best for the clients.

The next time you make an email buy, take that extra half hour to ask the questions that need to be asked. Demand the information that you’re entitled to, and do a little exploration of your own. Put new suppliers and existing contacts under the microscope, and remind yourself that the success of your email marketing campaign depends not only on the quality standards your vendors uphold but also on the individual lists themselves. There are exceptional results to be had. All we have to do is practice what we preach.

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