Permission Is Not Enough

MessageMedia has some of the biggest email lists in the business.

But when CEO Larry Jones called the other day he didn’t want to talk about them. “It’s all about customer management,” he said.

Jones has been watching the evolution of email marketing closely, and his conclusions are worth listening to.

“When something is new a lot more people will opt in than really want to,” he explained. “When you start getting overloaded, people drop out. So getting people’s permission is just step one.

“Step two is giving something of value. Step three is finding out more about them to create stickiness. Step four is creating a dialogue. You need to do that.”

A database is essential for creating dialogue, he said. It tells you what to say and where the dialogue is going. “We build a relational database for every client.” The job is then to fill that database.

So while most email list managers were worrying about giving value, Jones bought a survey company called Decisive Technologies Inc. last year to get data and provide stickiness.

“You’re upfront about the questions. You say you want to know them better, and build a more intimate relationship. You don’t demand information. You use it to help serve people. If you approach it that way the consumer will gladly give it to you.” That knowledge then filters all your email communications.

Jones has also been hiring consultants, permission advocates, database experts, quantitative analysts, and direct marketing experts, beefing up his client services group with talent “that can guide our clients through this process.”

We spoke on a day when a House subcommittee was marking up a bill aimed at fighting spam, the first bill to move ahead with support from the anti-spam group CAUCE. Jones’s point is he’s moved far beyond the spam question.

To paraphrase a slogan from the 1992 campaign, it’s a database, stupid. “We synchronize with corporate databases all the time. They can maintain data separately and download to us, and we always synchronize to them. There’s no question of who owns the data.”

The fundamentals of the business won’t change, Jones said. But “the technologies and medium will change. The databases will become richer and smarter. The permission drive will get stronger. The end user will be steering the ship. The days of trickery and stalking will be gone, and it will be a true two-way relationship with a level of trust. You may spend a lot less money on combing the streets for dates, but you’ll get more profits from customers you’ve built relationships with.”

Soon after getting off the phone with Jones I took a call from White Hat Software. It seems I’ve been given their “White Hat of the Month” award, in the category of Internet Citizen. It’s a fine honor, but I hope it doesn’t mean I’m an anti-commerce crank, because I’m not. I just agree with Larry Jones. In the long run, email is great for customer management but horrible as a prospecting tool.

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