Educate Them, for They Know Not What They Do

There’s nothing more nano in technology these days than the cost of an email address. Today’s rate is $0.000001.

Could anything be more affordable? Names are “fresh and clean,” too, promises Marketing-Thru-Email, the first sponsored link on the results page when I Googled: “buy rent email list.” The featured product is a 65 million name list for $64.95 (hence, the price cited above).

Pretend you’re not an interactive marketer. You’re running an offline business. You sell, oh, I don’t know… pencils. You think maybe you could sell more pencils over the Internet. You have an AOL account; you use email; you read the papers and know email is an economical way to reach a lot of people. After all, everyone buys pencils. Maybe you should market your pencils via email for a small upfront investment.

You know plenty about pencils. Marketing, on the other hand, is not a “core competency” (wonder if the pencil industry has jargon like that?). For only $64.95 (plus a little extra for production and servicing), you can tell 65 million people about your pencils! Result: I get spam about your pencils (probably at several email accounts). Repeat this scenario with purveyors of lawn care products, health panaceas, fabulous gifts for loved ones, and so on. That’s 65 million multiplied how many times?

You get the picture.

More and more, legitimate interactive marketers are vilified, marginalized, and viewed as pariahs disseminating spam as profligately as rats do bubonic plague. Sure, the sleazebag spammers have plenty to do with this image. But I think there’s a big surge of spam that’s really “friendly fire.” It comes from email marketing newbies who buy bad lists (from less-than-ethical vendors). They don’t know better.

At our Email Strategies Conference this week, the session on spam was overflowing — perhaps because it was the first time (we’re aware of) a session devoted to the subject was offered at a marketing event. Marketers came concerned about being perceived as spammers and left with stronger resolve to toe the line, after an FTC attorney outlined her agency’s plans to increase prosecution of fraudulent commercial emailers.

In my inbox that evening, I found this message:

I represent an acquisition firm that purchases the email subscribers of Web sites that go defunct.

We have access to several databases… of… double opt-in subscribers of newsletters and online offers. We sell these assets… to currently operating site [sic”…. Getting a single user to opt-in …could cost as much as $1 each; we sell off users at 10-15 cents.

These are completely opt-in users, not spam or other “targeted” leads. You will purchase the exclusive right to mail them offers, etc. as an asset, so no privacy policies are violated.

I asked Michael Mayor, head of NetCreations, what he thought of the offer. It’s just this side of legal, but he gave me a list of reasons why a savvy marketer wouldn’t go near it:

  • The list is likely very old (age is everything in email).

  • Since the site is defunct, it would be difficult to verify opt-in process claims. This in itself is enough to torpedo the deal.
  • [It’s” very tired. When the business was sinking, you can bet they were hammering these names, hoping for a miracle.
  • Permission is not transferable. I would want to re-qualify these people with a message sent by their former “permission holder.” It would net five percent or fewer conversions. If the list is so good, why sell it? Why not rent it?

I called Louis Ambriano, VP of sales and marketing at Marketshare Recovery, the company behind the offer. He said lists were “put through our cleaning process” before resale. The process, he explained, was three or four mailings sent over a six-week period, informing recipients their data would be under “new ownership” and offering an opt-out option. Recent “cleaning” of a financial services list resulted in more than 35 percent attrition, Ambriano told me. And no, reviewing the original permission policy is not an option.

Companies such as Marketshare Recovery and Xuppa (to name two of many) buy, sell, trade, auction, and broker email lists in more ways than you thought possible. An affiliate deal promises “there is Nothing to Sell and you will get Free Subscribers to send your offers to. Simply generate subscribers to our FREE opt-in lists, and you get 5 subscribers directly from our targeted database for each confirmed subscriber that your refer. It’s that simple and that easy!”

Have you ever considered the purchase of something you know nothing about? Something you’ve never really even thought about, come to think of it? These days, I’m exploring home renovations. I feel only slightly more qualified to assess overlay versus inset doors or whether “cabinet floors” should be “rabbeted into the face frame” than I am to buy a nuclear submarine. Once I do learn this new language and can make choices, there’s another nervous-making decision ahead: Whom do I trust to provide quality goods at a fair price?

Offline vendors and merchants try email marketing because they’re learning what we already know: Email is a relatively low-cost, effective marketing tool. Many of these well-meaning businesspeople become spammers in the process. They’re genuinely horrified to discover this. Ever sent a spam complaint to a postmaster@ or abuse@ address only to get a personal apology in return? It’s always from someone who was burned buying “1 billion email address for $19.99!!”

They spammed because they didn’t know any better. Because the site hawking the list looked legit. I don’t know flanges, they don’t know email. That’s how things are.

So maybe you marketers might consider offering services to smaller companies. Tailor them appropriately. Encourage them to try interactive marketing — by marketing to them. Create service packages, incentives, and value. Educate them. Consult. If you believe interactive marketing works (and are good at it), you’ll build businesses. Eventually, that means stronger and more lucrative clients.

Concentrate on just one prospect, and see how it goes. It’ll probably cost more than $0.000065, and you might not land them. But there may be one less spammer out there.

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