IPG Unit, NetCreations Tap IntraSource for Encrypted Merge/Purge Trial Program

Direct marketer data processor IntraSource threw its hat into the email list merge/purge ring Tuesday with an announcement that it will handle a trial email list management for a mailing by FastBridge, the interactive unit of Interpublic Group’s Initiative Media Worldwide media planning and buying firm.

E-mail marketer NetCreations, which recently agreed to be acquired by online ad giant DoubleClick, is also jointly participating in the trial alongside FastBridge; ultimately, NetCreations, which owns and brokers lists of its own, will offer the technology to clients in addition to its opt-in lists.

The adoption of a merge/purge system by these email marketers could indicate a trend toward more widespread adoption of the practice — a move many in the industry see as necessary, given the growing clutter in Americans’ email boxes.

IntraSource handles data processing and management for traditional and online direct marketers. In particular, its IntraMerge product allows list owners participating in a merge/purge to encrypt their lists during the process.

IntraMerge handles the merging and purging of duplicates from the lists, and then returns the remaining names to the appropriate owners for decryption and mailing. Thus is a de-duped mailing done using lists from several owners, without owners handing over unprotected proprietary information.

“Mailers no longer need to be concerned with the embarrassment of sending prospecting emails to their existing customer files or multiple messages being sent to the same email address — resulting in opt-outs and causing customer complaints,” said IntraSource managing partner Greg Williams.

Merge/purging of lists is fairly standard practice in traditional direct marketing, but is only now making an appearance in online marketing. Online marketing firm Impower was one of the first to begin offering the service to email marketers, and has been doing email merge/purge for several months.

Merge/purge “works to everyone’s benefit, makes the medium more economical. It’s something that’s been available in the direct marketing world for some time now,” said David Waldman, who is managing director of Impower’s New York office.

Online list owners are just now beginning to warm to the idea of merging their lists via a neutral third party, the companies said.

“At one point, list owners were very proprietary, because it’s their revenue stream. When you mentioned it to them, they were like, ‘No way’,” said Waldman. “But if you can encrypt it, or you can prove you know what you’re doing.

“They only allow a few vendors, like Impower, who know what they’re doing and have done their due diligence, to do merge/purge. They wouldn’t just let broker Joe Schmoe do it,” he added.

The companies involved in Tuesday’s deal added that encryption helps serve list owners’ need for trust.

“FastBridge is excited to be able to offer our clients the opportunity to employ a similar merge/purge system that traditional direct marketers have been doing for years, while maintaining the privacy issues surrounding this new innovative medium,” said Lori Goldberg, vice president and account director for FastBridge.

But Impower, which does not offer in-house encryption — but said it would enlist a vendor if list owners requested the service — said its reputation alone has generally been sufficient in convincing list owners to participate in a merge/purge. Impower is a division of the American List Council, an offline direct marketing firm with a sizable reputation.

“Everything is still under contract, and if the list owners have done their due diligence, and confidentiality agreements are signed by everyone … [encryption] is just a security measure, like wearing a padlock,” Waldman said.

Merge/purge is especially important in the Internet space: list owners don’t want to lose members due to duplicated mailings or if a recipient has already opted out.

Companies “might have a house file of several million customers … and might not want to hit those customers with their acquisition mailing,” Waldman said.

“It’s important legally to remove any members of the suppression files. So people who tell them ‘no’ or are already customers dont receive anything. Plus, when you’re mailing millions of millions of emails, you don’t really want to send to a customer five times. It may scrutinize or reduce effect of email, or may annoy the customer.

Waldman, who has handled merge/purge campaigns for a leading financial services institution, said that mailers also face legal difficulties in some cases; list owners’ names have to be checked against members with bad debt.

“And the cost to do the names actually drop — the process actually saves [marketers] money than the upfront cost of the merge,” Waldman said. “There are lots of intangible benefits.”

NetCreations will benefit in an additional way by the agreement with IntraSource: as a list owner of its own, using IntraMerge’s encryption software will placate other list owners working with it in a merge/purge.

“This is a big step forward in the history of opt-in email marketing,” said NetCreations chief executive Rosalind Resnick. “We are delighted to be able to offer a break-through technology solution that creates a win for Internet marketers and consumers alike.”

The ability to encrypt and protect other list owners’ lists for a merge/purge will also help one other party: DoubleClick. Following its widely publicized privacy troubles, the company’s reputation among privacy and consumer advocates could benefit from list integrity safeguards such as those offered by IntraSource.

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