Questions for Michael Mayor of NetCreations

NetCreations President and COO Michael Mayor has been a persistent voice of sanity in the war-torn email marketing landscape since 1998 — the year he joined the online messaging upstart as one of its first employees. Mayor has long advocated consumer privacy and accountability in the list-building business, a philosophy held throughout his 18 years in direct marketing. In fact, it was largely this stance that landed him the chairman post for the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s E-mail Committee, which last month issued its first set of email ethics guidelines.

Mayor insists he has always managed for quality, and NetCreations has always been an outspoken advocate of opt-in, specificially double opt-in. He takes pride in the fact that NetCreations’ average response rate across its 500 lists was four percent in 2002, while its bounce/unsubscribe rate was just one percent.

ChannelSeven.com recently sat down with Mayor to discuss a range of issues currently shaping the email marketing space, including email append, list deterioration, and how the IAB’s guidelines have been received.

  1. Is the quality of lists deteriorating? How are list sellers addressing this problem, and how should they be addressing it?

    That’s like asking, “Is the quality of water deteriorating?” It depends on where you’re drinking it. List quality varies greatly from list manager to list manager. Unfortunately, I see a lot of email lists being managed poorly today. Many list managers are managing email as a necessary evil and don’t really have much expertise in this area. Others take a “blast and burn” approach and are in it for the short term. Managing a quality email list requires long-term dedication and a tremendous amount of expertise.

    Quality lists are out there. My personal frustration is that clients who have tested and found the winning formula are not exactly motivated to allow us to broadcast their secrets to the masses. I know several marketers who love that their competitors have given up on email and they’re not about to convince them to come back. They’d much rather see the demand for email lists slow so they can have the market to themselves. Right now, they do.

  2. Where do you stand in the debate about append services?

    I’ve always been firmly against it. The FTC is looking to this industry to regulate itself, yet at the last DMA show every vendor seemed to offer an email append service. They just don’t get that they are part of the problem. Appending a third party’s postal file with email addresses and then allowing that third party to contact them directly by email is the very definition of unsolicited email. A list member shouldn’t be added to 50 lists just because he signed up for one. Permission is not transferable.

    We are currently working with a major financial institution on what we call “Append and Send.” In this process, we match their records to ours. However, if they want to contact the matches, it must be through us and the topic of communication must fall within the list member’s requested areas. This way we are protecting our list owner’s, our list member’s and our marketer’s best interests.

  3. What’s working especially well for you right now?

    One no-brainer that we’ve applied with success is recency — to hit people with specific offers as soon as they sign up. This means sending messages one user at a time, rather than 500,000 at once. People get information right after they express an interest in it. Therefore, they will remember signing up for a mailing, they’ll be more receptive, and they’ll know it’s not spam. This tactic has resulted in response rates four to five times what you’d normally find.

  4. How would you assess the state of spam, and who should take the lead in combating it?

    Over the holidays, I was spammed by a major home improvement chain. It even had “Re:” in the subject line, which is a common spam tactic. I know the company didn’t intend to spam me; it probably just got some extremely bad advice.

    Spam is not the disease, it’s the symptom. The disease is a lack of education in email marketing. Yes, there is the odd scam, but most spam does contain a legitimate sales pitch. This is often indicative of poor marketer education or reseller programs that are completely out of control. We as an industry need to be proactive in teaching marketers how to utilize this channel properly. In addition, manufacturers need to be educated that when they turn a blind eye to their reseller channel, bad things happen that can hurt their brand. Education is the best anti-spam tool, and it was the main reason I agreed to chair the IAB’s E-mail Committee.

  5. How can email marketers stay off black lists and prevent ISPs from blocking them?

    The ISPs want to solve the spam issue just as badly as email marketers do, if not more so. Right now, the ISPs are taking an “innocent until proven guilty” approach, and I really must commend them for that. We just need to make sure that a fair trial is part of that approach as well.

    NetCreations has a full-time staff member whose job is simply to work with ISPs. Every email provider should have someone in that role. If you have a good relationship with an ISP, they’ll call you when something happens.

    The next initiative the IAB’s E-mail Committee is tackling is this very subject. We have major ISPs, email vendors and marketers as members, so it’s the perfect forum to get everyone in the same room to finally get consensus on this issue. I’m confident we can resolve it.

  6. What do you think are the likely short and long-term implications of the IAB’s email guidelines?

    I wasn’t prepared for how well the Ethical E-mail Guidelines were received, by those in and outside the industry. It reassured me that focusing on both responsibility and accountability is the only way to correct the problems we face as an industry today, so we’re not facing them tomorrow.

  7. What was your most humbling moment in 2002?

    My daughter Emma asked me what I do for a living and I couldn’t quite explain it because she’s not quite computer literate yet. I know more about Hello Kitty than she knows about the Internet. For now, that’s just fine with me.

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