E-Mail List Rental in Tough Times

Despite all the issues swirling around email, you can still utilize outside email lists. But with all the lists out there, how do you determine which to use and which to pass on? Which are legal and which aren’t? Which will work? Which won’t?

E-mail lists are compiled in several ways. Many were built by swapping and harvesting. Today, when considering any list, legal and marketing concerns must factor into any decision. Several things you’d better be darn sure of:

  • The list owner is the company with the right to mail third-party offers to people on that list. And those people have opted in to receive such offers.
  • Opt-in data, IP address, date, and time logs should exist and be retrievable on demand. If a list owner pushes your offer and your company serves the graphics and hosts the landing site, your company will be affected by any complaints.
  • When the list owner sends the email, it uses its name or brand in the message’s sender field.

Whether you work through a manager who represents the list owner or directly with the owner, the three points above are absolute and nonnegotiable. Read and review the opt-in language and the original privacy statement. Confirm all these points in writing. Add the following language to your agreements with list owners or their representatives:

As the list owner for [list name”, we hereby confirm that:

  • We will mail your offer only to those people who have expressly given us the right, via opt-in checkbox, to send them third-party offers.
  • We will send the email messages with your offer to those people from our servers using the sender address consistent with the offer opted in to by the consumer.
  • We will provide you with the IP address, date, and time for any consumer who complains she didn’t opt in.

(You may wish to add a penalty for lack of compliance.)

If the owner isn’t willing to provide these assurances, go elsewhere.

To borrow a page from the postal list industry, data cards (information about a mailing list) include a lot of useful information that can help determine list quality. E-mail lists don’t provide that same level of detail for the most part. So I devised a report card to help evaluate email lists you already use or may use in the future.

Before I provide the categories and parameters, let’s look at some list rental challenges:

  • Lots of brokers offer lists. Some make dubious claims about them and their actual ownership.
  • It’s not always clear how lists were built. They may be customer lists, sweepstakes entrants, direct product inquiries, third-party checkboxes, and so forth.
  • It may not be clear whether names are all single opt-in, double opt-in, opt-out, or a combination.
  • You almost never know how often a list is used, or by whom. Even if you request this information, you rarely get a straight answer (except for lists represented by professional managers).
  • In the postal word, most data cards publish “usage.” This indicates which advertisers had success with a given list.
  • Many email lists are built solely for rental purposes, so there’s much less emphasis on quality.
  • Some lists (I’m sure you know this) are illicitly harvested from many sources. Using them will get you in trouble.
  • Many list owners and lists peddlers will take money from any advertiser willing to pay. They allow totally unrelated offers to be mailed to their list in a quest for bucks.
  • For many lists, even if a test mailing is successful, rollout results are almost always different. Lists are constantly in flux. It’s nearly impossible to make projections. You could lose your shirt on rollouts.
  • Some unscrupulous characters actually sell lists. They require you to use their email blast service, although their mailings are blocked by major ISPs. This, of course, results in gross under-delivery.
  • Most professional list managers in the postal world are ethical and will dissuade you from renting a list they don’t think will work for your offer. Such ethics can be absent in the email world. They’ll take your money even when they know your offer won’t work.
  • Most email lists aren’t updated with an email cleaning service, analogous to the postal National Change of Address (NCOA).

Should you not even consider renting an email list? I wouldn’t go that far, but you do need to exercise extreme caution. Gather information about any list you’re thinking of using. Use a spreadsheet or database to keep track of the details about each list, including:

  • Official list name
  • Owner
  • Advertiser name from which consumers originally opted in
  • Authorized representatives
  • Quantity
  • Price:
    • Test
    • Rollout
    • Honor price for 180 days or longer?
  • Way list was built
  • Permission
  • Frequency of use:
    • By the list owner
    • By list renters
    • By others
  • Usage
  • List purpose:
    • Rental
    • Publication subscriptions
    • Customers
    • Other
  • Harvested names?
  • Reporting provided:
    • Delivered
    • Unsubscribes
    • Bounces
    • Clicks
  • Last date cleaned, and how
  • Blocked email? If so, provide details.

For the report card, I’ve selected three categories:

A = Good, feel comfortable about using this list.

B = Probably OK, but proceed with caution.

F = Stay away from it.

On your spreadsheet, assign a category to each list. Follow these guidelines. Remember, they’re my own. You may want to adjust them as you see fit.

A lists:

  • Single opt-in, double opt-in
  • Customers, subscribers, inquirers, and so forth
  • Mailing frequency: once a week, maximum
  • Meaningful usage
  • Top-shelf reporting
  • Recipients interested in content and offer
  • Working direct with list owner or authorized representative
  • Hotline names (those who’ve opted in within the last 30 days) available
  • Selections on lists relevant to your offer

B lists:

  • Opt-out
  • Third-party check boxes, sweepstakes entries
  • Mailing frequency: up to five times per week
  • Questionable usage
  • Adequate reporting
  • Working direct with list owner or authorized representative
  • Selections or categories of names relevant to your offer

F lists:

  • Any list that’s been harvested in any manner
  • Any list that’s been swapped with other companies (not a list from the original source)
  • Any list with blocked delivery
  • Any list that’s never been cleaned
  • Mailing frequency: over five times per week
  • No usage
  • Subpar or no reporting
  • Not working directly with list owner or authorized representative

It’s a lot of work to gather these data and create a grade for each list, but it’s the only way to discover the great lists and weed out the losers.

Keep reading…

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Strategies is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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