Renting a List? Consider a Spam Clause

Can you build a brand using only a series of one-time offers? Maybe, but it’s awfully difficult. It depends how you define your brand or, better yet, how customers understand your brand. Some brand experiences you control, some you can’t, and some you’re unaware of. These still affect your brand. I have some good news, bad news, and more good news about this.

The good news: I was in California to meet with LowerMyBills.com CEO Matt Coffin and his team. Matt founded the company after he bought a new house and went online to find a way to lower his bills. He couldn’t find that one-stop shop. He created LowerMyBills to fill the need. Matt and his team feel they have a real mission and a huge potential market. Who doesn’t want to lower her bills?

The bad news: I checked my email at the hotel. Two messages jumped out at me, as both came from LowerMyBills. One was addressed to my normal email address. The second was addressed to “wireframing@futurenowinc.com” (here is the message). Notice the text at the end that offers to the option to “view your registration information”? I was very curious. When was I delusional enough to opt in with the wireframing@ address? It was only used once, as a link in an article. With curiosity trumping rationality, I clicked to see what “registration information” there could possibly be for that address.

Would you be shocked to learn when I clicked to find out how I’d “registered,” the list broker could not find my opt-in information? Surprise, surprise! Clients such as LowerMyBills send email to lists purchased in good faith from different brokers. They, and many of their recipients, become victims. That same wireframing@ address might appear over and over, on multiple lists. Either some of the most reputable list brokers harvested addresses themselves or purchased them from someone who doubtless harvested that email address from our Web site or one of our online columns. It’s spam either way — completely unsolicited.

See how perception becomes reality? It’s not “true” spam — but it’s perceived as such. Spam is a “brand assassin”!

More bad news: I asked Matt and his team if they understood the potential long-term damage to their brand because of the negative associations consumers might ascribe as a result of perceived spam. They got it. Brand image is critical, and they had a plan to deal with this head on. Matt knows one path to improving conversion rates is prospects trusting you. What was my impression of LowerMyBills when I received the email addressed to an account I know I never opted in with? It’s a spammer. Trust factor: zero.

Even if it’s not intentional spam. People recognize the name and brand on those emails. How do they feel about the brand? Probably the same way I did when I got that email. Perception dominates reality, and good guys get smeared.

Is LowerMyBills a spammer? No. It’s a terrific company with a great service. But if its prospects receive “perceived spam,” what it does on its Web site won’t matter. Is this the image LowerMyBills and Matt Coffin want to portray? Is this the image your company wants?

More good news: LowerMyBills will include a new clause into every one of its email list rental contracts (either cost per action or CPM) stipulating if it sees x number of harvested emails, it doesn’t pay for the list rental. Shouldn’t it be the list broker’s obligation to verify the opt-in registrations before you send email? If more CEOs were as concerned about their brands as Matt, we’d see a drop in some of this perceived spam.

It sure won’t eliminate it (I just got an offer for 6 billion email address for $10). But if Matt could spread his mission to eliminate the “perceived spam” eroding his brand, it could help your brand, too.

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