Potential Spammer: Our Readers Intervene!

I asked for it.

Last column, I presented you with three conundrums and asked for your feedback. I received hundreds of email messages — per campaign. So I decided to talk to you today about the one that generated the most heated feedback: the case of the “Champagne spam.”

To recap: Mike Booth of World Printmakers emailed me to say he has “a sweet little Web site… that gets about 50,000 hits a month but doesn’t sell many fine-art prints.” His idea? To buy a cheap spider-email program, grab email addresses from corporate Web sites, and send out “brief, tasteful mailings.”

I am determined to save this man from making a huge mistake, so I enlisted your help. I solicited suggestions for attracting more customers without annoying the heck out of the masses. You all came through. (Apologies to writers of all the wonderful messages I don’t have space to reprint here.) Here are some highlights.

Spam Equals Brand Suicide

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming number of you strongly recommended Mr. Booth rethink his plan.

“Mike is contemplating brand suicide,” wrote one reader. “The only thing more annoying than spam from a well-known spamming company is spam from a small ’regular’ company. Why? Because from the user end, I don’t know if his opt-out is legitimate. It leaves me scratching my head, wondering if I should opt-out or not.”

So what does this reader — and hundreds like her, including myself — do? She forwards the email message to uce@ftc.gov. And as those of you who attended the ClickZ Email Strategies conference last week learned from Federal Trade Commission (FTC) attorney Jennifer Mandigo Brennan, the FTC (along with some state government agencies) has gotten into the business of putting spammers out of business.

The recipient often emails the spammer’s ISP with a complaint. If your ISP receives too many complaints (too many can equal one) you could find yourself shut down, temporarily or even permanently.

Some Solutions

Hopefully Mike and others are convinced spamming makes bad business sense. What could he do instead?

Many of you said he should start with the basics. No, not email basics — his Web site.

“Champagne email ain’t gonna work with a beer barrel Web site. Even if the email were designed using all the right elements we, as e-marketers, struggle with daily, clicking through to the site would invalidate all the efforts put into the email.”

“I think most of the reason he has ’hits’ but no sales is that the site is confusing, difficult to navigate, and hard on the eye. I spent about 30 minutes on it trying to find a way to pay and kept getting hit with text box after text box after text box. I couldn’t tell to whom he’s trying to sell… artists, contractors? He’s trying to do too many things with his site.”

“Mike needs to rethink his Web strategy entirely. What is it there for? How does he want clients to use it? [He should” manage his expectations. Email doesn’t live in a vacuum and cannot be viewed as a one-time-only ’blast.’ Rather, email strategy should be carefully integrated in all aspects of his Web marketing, but only after a firm foundation has been laid.”

“He needs to go back to basics, beginning with his Web site, and not even think about using email until his house is in order.”

Great points.

Let’s suppose the site has been put in order. Can he still use email marketing to attract customers? Sure.

“A much better option is to expand his opt-in list to corporate clients by offering a sweepstakes to those who sign up,” writes another reader. “Give away one of those great pictures… it just might be incentive enough to get folks to join your list.”

Or, he could build his list this way:

“The images on the site are beautiful. Why not request an email address to view [more of” them? This would increase the email list, then it would increase awareness, and you would get many return visitors when there was a ’show.’”

Others suggested he find lists in other ways:

“My advice is to find an email list broker to help, because you will end up paying less (or at least, no more) than going directly to a list owner because of the broker’s discount, not to mention they are experienced in locating well-targeted lists.

“To find a good broker, simply go to Google and type in ’email list broker.’ Don’t forget to include some kind of enticing offer in your email, like a limited time discount for recipients.”

Or, Mike could try this:

“I would suggest he not do a mass email, for all of the reasons you mention in your article. Instead, have him contact Netscape regarding a locally targeted online advertising buy.”

There’s the option of advertising in email newsletters:

“There are many and most don’t earn a dime now,” wrote one reader. “So if he’s anything of a businessman, he can probably get a ’pay per lead’ fee. If he sells, for example, one out of every five prospects and earns $1.00 per deal… he can offer a partner $50 per lead and still make a profit. Here in the Netherlands, most would probably settle for $25 or $15 a lead. Or, he could try a barter deal.”

Not everyone was convinced email marketing was the way for Mike to go. One reader suggested he skip email for now and go straight to corporations:

“How does he find these companies? Go where they go. Art museums have community/corporate funding. Web sites. Museums themselves [post” sponsorship support.

“How does he promote [his products”? Signed prints are ’special’ and might be offered for sale, not just for display, but also as corporate gifts or awards or cards. Whom should he approach? The marketing directors. They are charged with the image as well as the product promotion of the companies. He could also ask his printing company. They might be willing and able to refer him to other businesses for whom they do quality printing — and get more business that way, too.”

Granted, a few readers thought spam was a fine option and the whole spam debate has been cooked up by the media so we have something to write about. Well, I’ve got plenty to write about. Next column, I’ll take up another issue discussed in my previous column, namely, how to handle sending messages to AOL users.


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