Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When Good Names Go Bad

Direct marketers have known for years that even great lists can go “stale.”  People move away, become disinterested, or die.  Life happens; marketers adjust.

For years these marketers have cleaned their postal data regularly and eliminated bad or duplicate addresses through merge/purges, and running data through NCOA (National Change of Address).  Marketers who wanted to go the extra mile could run client data against lists of the deceased and (I’m not kidding!) prison inmates.

Well-maintained data meant lower printing costs, lower postage costs, and a higher rate of return.  It was a win/win for everyone—and ruthlessly reinforced by USPS penalties imposed on those who “forgot” to follow the rules.

Now email marketers are getting in the list clean-up
networkbusiness too.  But instead of the post office mandating clean-up action, emailers are finding their ISPs are behind the effort. 

Even though spam has declined (in large part to the dismantling of several nefarious organizations that spewed spam from Bulgaria, Romania, India and China), spam complaints are actually up. 

Why?  It seems that disgruntled consumers, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails they receive each day, are hitting the “spam” button with greater frequency and vehemence.

Since each “spam” hit besmirches the reputation of the sender, ISPs find it in their own best interests to police their user community.

When an emailer gets too many “spam” warnings, the ISP neighborhood watch committee gets alarmed.  It’s like having abandoned cars suddenly appear in a neighbor’s unkempt yard.  It’s ugly, the whole community suffers, property values fall, and soon no one wants to live there.

At bottom, it’s a financial decision.  If an ISP gets a reputation as being easy on spammers, legitimate emailers will take their business elsewhere.  So the ISP enforcers have stepped in, encouraging email marketers to clean up their acts...long before weeds take over the user community and the abandoned cars arrive.

Like keeping a lawn trimmed and tidy, ISPs are asking emailers to remove recipients who have not opened emails in six months, transfer those records to an “inactive” file and treat them as prospects. 

Grass that is cut too short and too often dies; so can a lead that gets too much unwanted attention.  Hence ISPs recommend marketing less frequently to avoid the dreaded overload factor.

Re-engage the lead by sending content based on the last meaningful interaction.  This judicious fertilization, applied sparingly, can revive flagging interest, ISPs reason.

But just because a name is on an email list, it doesn’t mean it belongs there, the ISP enforcers insist.  If the individual initially signed up for a whitepaper or to enter a contest, it is likely he got what he wanted and he is gone.  Pfffft.   Hit him with Roundup.  He is a weed growing in your driveway.

Sadly, lists, like neighborhoods, can gradually decay.  Even committed customers/subscribers/donors/friends drift away.  Emarketers not keeping an eye on their data may miss the early warning signs that their lists’ “shelf life” have expired.  They are letting the untended grass and shrubs grow helter skelter.  Soon, the ISP police will come knocking at the door with a warning:  “Clean up or Move out.”

Like mailing to an outdated list, the potential downside of marketing to a stale email list is higher cost, reduced response rate and missed opportunities.

But unlike direct mail which can inconspicuously but expensively end up in a dead letter office, unwanted “spam” damages the reputation of the entire email community including the sender and his ISP.

So now ISPs are putting the word out:  Play by the rules. Or else.
Enforcement will follow.

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