Direct Email Discipline

As I’ve said before, one of the big stories of 2000 is the entrance of direct marketing discipline into email marketing.

Here’s yet another example. Do you know why companies rent paper lists with such confidence? It’s because they know how to catch an organization that tries to cheat them by mailing the list twice. They use decoys.

A decoy in a mailing list is an address that routes mail back to the list owner. If the decoy receives one letter from the organization that paid to use the list, it means the list was used as specified in the rental contract. If the decoy receives more than one letter, the list was used in violation of the contract.

The monitoring of mailing lists can get much more complex, and it has become a substantial subset of the direct marketing industry. One of the best known services of this type is U.S. Monitor of New City, N.Y., created by Daragon Software Inc. of Paramus, N.J.

The news today is that you can now check your email list rentals quickly and easily using DecoyMail. The service rents for $75 for three months, $175 for six months, or $200 for a full year. Here’s how it works.

DecoyMail lets you create new mail accounts, each with a separate address, that redirect mail to your regular inbox. The accounts seem to be just regular email accounts, with addresses like rodneyfriend@lazum.com, for example. You set up a separate email account for each rental contract so you can check that your list was used properly.

Oh, and if the renter decides to check the dummy domain, it will show up in a “Whois” search. Say the renter decides to check out lazum@com. It will appear to be a normal domain out of Tempe, Ariz. You can also get reports on all your DecoyMail accounts at any time through your browser.

All this would have been very helpful to politicians over the last few weeks. Had Bill Bradley’s team used DecoyMail, for instance, it would have known its list was being spread around.

But it’s more useful in the commercial world, in which you want to get value from your lists but may question the honesty of the brokers and clients you’re dealing with. Now you have a way to check up on them.

DecoyMail is the creation of Rodney Joffe, who previously created the Whitehat.com audit service and helped found what’s now GTE’s Genuity unit, among other things.

“This is something UNIX people can do with a little effort. But now, knowing nothing about sendmail, you can do the same thing,” he said.

DecoyMail has other uses, of course. You can use it to filter out spam when you join lists that the list owners promise won’t be rented. Just join under a DecoyMail name, and if that address gets mail from another sender, your trust has been compromised.

This is just one of many problems the email industry has suddenly discovered that the real world solved ages ago. (Another example, the basic problem of merge/purge, was discussed by Kim MacPherson on Monday.)

The fact that we’re now getting solutions to those problems is a very good thing and one more indication that the email marketing business is finally getting the professional tools it needs to thrive.

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