Adventures in Mobile Marketing

I don’t like list rentals.

Thursday, 27. August 2009 by Anna Billstrom


This has come up in a few conversations on EmailRoundtable, and in a conversation between me and @LorenMcDonald, and I thought I’d put my thoughts here. I don’t like list rentals. But to elaborate, let’s talk about the various ways of (in)organically acquiring email addresses:

- For a fee, you use another company’s email systems to send your email. It’s on their system, but they send your content. All links in email go back to your site.
- Some companies sell their lists. So they actually hand over part of their customer base. You insert into your system and drop the email.
- Some companies share part of a newsletter with you, so you can insert a form, and acquire sign-ups.
- Some companies do back-end overlays of data models, to determine who in your company list, fits the model and is thus a good fit for some kind of segment.
- Some companies specialize in giving you extra data on your email list. So I have the email, they will tell me the email’s favorite flavor of ice cream.

I’ve avoided using the marketing terms for the above processes as that’s a completely different discussion.

Issues to think about if you consider any of these options
What’s the email’s provenance? How did the consumer give their permission? The minute you use that email, you are potentially a spammer, if you are unaware of how it was given. And check back a few generations.

Whatever route you take, will the customer understand the relationship? The email I used to opt-in to Zappos emails, and suddenly I’m getting Gap emails. Does that make sense? Don’t underestimate the consumer. They know how they interacted with your company. It doesn’t take a lot to be considered spam.

Are you giving over more value than what you’re being provided? If I give 100K emails to a datafarm, I need to understand that I’m providing them with value. They only exist by the customers they have, and the lists they get.

As Loren McDonald says very well in his post, If Someone Says Buy A List One More Time…”

After all, marketers who ask about buying lists could just be asking, “How can I build my list quickly, and where can I acquire email addresses?” Unfortunately, there is no easy way to build a good list quickly. If there were, presumably we’d all be doing it.

Here’s the truth: In the email world, you can’t buy legitimate email addresses. You know those $399 CDs with 50 million email addresses? Most of the addresses are probably harvested or gathered in some less-than-stellar manner. Many are probably either out of date, converted to “honeypots” by ISPs looking to trap some spammers, or otherwise undeliverable. The owners of those addresses certainly haven’t given you permission to email them.

There are many methods of increasing your email list, “organically,” a term I use just to say, it’s part of the normal process of business. It varies by company and organization, and it’s largely to do with getting out the word that you have interesting mailing campaigns, that you make it a priority to take email addresses at F2F events, strategic parts of your site, at the cash register, etc. Viral campaigns are great, and parternship marketing.

For clients who have explored the acquisition routes above, I have never seen one of them that has exhausted the organic methods. Lifecycle, “triggered” emails are probably the most unsung hero in acquisition channels. It enhances the relationship, it is targeted, and personalized, and 24×7. But it’s a little tricky to execute. I think marketers go the “easy” route by back-end data models, because it’s something they understand, whereas lifecycle emails are not one-hit-wonders but slow growth. Still, when you compare cost and response rates, lifecycles win every time. Web 2.0 companies understand this- their emails are short, text-only (or with maybe 1 image) and triggered according to user activity on their site. They notify you of social relationships- and they create a stickiness. Unfortunately retail and consumer goods haven’t launched onto this as much, they’re still in the image-heavy, HTML one-drop-a-week world, barely inching up from the “cart abandonment” email campaigns. They can go there, and some are trying, but it’s a hard row to hoe.

Reading on the topic
How to Grow A List ClickZ
Email list rental may fall out of favor DM News. Great quote from Julie Katz at Forrester:

“We saw it coming because renting names from a list can be very risky for a marketer,” says Julie Katz, analyst at Forrester Research. “Those people don’t necessarily have any affinity with your brand. Also, if the names are bad, you could get caught in a spam trap and it can ruin your reputation.”

Bulk email lists: good or bad? by Mark Brownlow on Email Experience Reports

Link Bait & Numbers Games & New Readers

Wednesday, 11. February 2009 by Anna Billstrom

Trophy Wall In regards to my last post, I got a twitter reply,

"@banane, is email marketing dead? [link to my blog post]"

My post was a methodical, bulleted list of reasons why you should not acquire email addresses from vendors, basically, don’t buy email lists.

Some folks do connote email marketing with snatching up large tracts of anonymous, unqualified email addresses. I don’t. I think that’s a bad practice. This fellow thought that was “the death of email,” to not buy email lists. So… email marketing = buying email lists? To not buy them, is the harbinger of the end?

No, no, he replied, “it’s link bait.” Maybe I think too much about this stuff, but let me get it straight. It’s OK to say my post is the beginning of the end of this industry, refusing to buy email lists, because it’s going to bring more readers to my blog.

Well, speaking of the future of marketing, let’s talk about link bait and numbers games.

First, with link bait, no I certainly don’t mind doing funny, silly, intriguing tweets to promote one of my posts. But misconstruing (if that’s what he did) the purpose of my post or the message I’m making, and sending your followers there, is confusing and kind of pointless.

OK, now to do it all in the name of numbers, I say: in this social media world, someone’s always gaming the system, and what they get out of it is, how to game the system. It’s based on probability, that by increasing your audience, you will have more opportunities. That couldn’t be farther from my methodology. I work on creating meaningful online relationships between companies and their customers, through relevant, timely, and interesting messaging. Not just broadcasting randomly to people unsolicited.

So the fact that the link didn’t make sense, means that poor readers coming over here expect me to be another numbers-gaming popularity mechanism. Well, here you will enjoy some conversations by a small, eclectic, but high-quality group of email marketers discussing the best practices of ethical & effective email marketing. Welcome, if that interests you!

MLMs and Social Marketing

Monday, 23. June 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Funny post the other day about social marketing gone wrong- the impending doom of a medium because (gasp!) marketers have taken it over. Funny man Duncan Riley: Pending Sign of the Twitter Apocalypse.. It’s Being Talked About by Internet Marketers.

To me, John Reese is giving internet marketing a bad name, that of MLMs! Multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes are created by selling the ‘starter kit’ instead of a real product. They’re self-referentially successful. This article, and his example, expressly says that his formula works, but you have to “add him.” Essentially, a Ponzi scheme.

Don’t blame the medium, though, or the industry of marketing. I’ve found Twitter to be a great profesisonal tool in the tiny niche of email marketing. I get to chat with other email marketers, mostly logistics on when they’re visiting town. Plurk, FriendFeed, Plaxo and LinkedIn- Facebook & Last.FM- on and on- they all serve different purposes.

The methods suggested by John Reese are *not recommended.* They’re right up there with buying email lists, sending untargeted bulk email promotions, and other bad email marketing practices. The social marketing I hold up as a poster child: target your specific clique or social demographic and join the social network, and provide something of use. Adding 1,000 followers – unqualified, just numbers-game players- will not help your business. (Unless your business is… a MLM!)

Good example of social marketing done right: creating a giveaway, finding folks who might be interested (targeted, opt-in list), and building a list of interested folks in your giveaway/product, etc. A DJ friend of mine did this recently on her newsletter- she gave away a mixed track on iTunes, and then I forwarded that download- those that like her, and like DJ music, will use social media networks to “follow” her on Twitter and join the cliquey community. Not to just increase her numbers for no point at all.

Note: To give him credit, John Reese has posted a rebuttal to the Inquisitr & Mashable posts. In reading it, though, I don’t see much defeating my claims that he’s advising creating a Twitter account to buffet his own account, which I see as the definition of MLM. Still, for a well-rounded read, check it out. Wake Up Call Web 2.0 Wouldn’t Exist Without Internet Marketers

Getting Splogged & Ethics

Friday, 25. April 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Talking with an affiliate marketer the other day, we discussed how there are just slimy people in this world, and namely, in our industry. At the MarketingSherpa conference in Miami a few months ago, I met an honest to god, real spammer. Basically- after a few comments, I knew for sure where his ethics lay.

I seriously considered in 2002 about getting out of permission marketing, because the slimy factor, for me at least, was too high. Then, as usual I found a group of neat people, a great client, a team of marketers and email folks that I really hummed with, and we set about doing some truly cool and fun initiatives.

Then, I got splogged yesterday- my content stolen and re-purposed on someone else’s web site- and it reminded me again that there are con artists, unethical folks, and generally clueless people in this industry (or sadly, trying to be in this industry!). As he says on his site, “2,000,000 emails an hour!”. Is that something to brag about- blasting out nameless, offer-free, un-rich emails per second?

So it brought up the issue of what is an ethical email marketer (besides respecting copyright laws!):

- Recognize the privacy of the consumer- analyze data on an aggregate, not on an individual level

- Maintain and respect unsubscription processes and individual acts

- Communicate with those that want the information: internally evangelize the concept of positive, response filtering so frequent and interested customers are a prioritiy in all communications

- Maintain proper data channels, and data flows, for the workings of all of the unsubscription paths. Keep a high level of integrity for the processes of unsubscription

- Respect local laws on Privacy, and moreso, improve and evangelize tighter and more respectful privacy policies

- Do not sell lists

- Evangelize behavioral vs. demographic targeting, list acquisition, data appends.

- Promote security internally with personal information- make sure that all CRM staff knows how to handle personal information, passwords, encryption, data transfer, and manage the prevention of any loss or theft of PII. This is ongoing and training is ongoing, as well.

- Recognize the copyright laws, and practice them in regards to stock content, user-generated content, and other content in the email creative.

- Provide multiple, and quick unsubscription paths for all communications

- Provide contact information on each email, available at any time.

- Retain control of all messages outgoing from the customer database, and branding, From address, basically all content and functionality in line with the communication strategy

- Educate marketers on what they can- and can’t- use from a privacy perspective

- Promote routine privacy policy emails to the base on usages, rights, and changes to the policy.

Simple Lessons from HR Newsletter

Monday, 07. April 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I profiled some airline industry emails the other day. Today, I am writing about some do’s and don’t's (mostly don’t's) that we can learn form a Human Resources newsletter.

How Did I Get On This List?
If your customers have to ask that, something went wrong in the lifecycle, customer contact arena. Either you didn’t follow up right after the opt-in transaction , establishing brand, From Address- great for enabling images btw- and cementing the relationship, or you don’t have a right to contact this person. This is the case in point- as a member on an alias of a non-profit, I submitted a request for sponsorship, and they took it as an opt-in to their newsletter.

I once helped out a friend who was starting a simple newsletter campaign to her contacts (she is a PR specialist) to tell people how you know them. Say it right off the bat. Especially if this is the first communique in a long time. “You may have met me on a job as a PR specialist, or from my old Floral industry days… ” it could be personalized, or just generally stated.

This was done right: a useable contact email address was easy to find. So, I contacted the list owner on how he received my email address, and he responded that his list is large (300,000) and full of respected HR professionals. Nice, but that wasn’t the question I was asking. So he should know how his sources originate, by setting up tracking IDs, or some other indicator as to what channel, either “you contacted us once for a request” or “you opted in on our web site.”

How to Unsubscribe Folks
Wrong: after that first email exchange, he refused to unsubscribe me manually.

I get another newsletter, and go to unsubscribe. The unsubscription page asks for more personal information than my email address. I’ve seen very large corporations try to harvest personal information at this point, and it’s the wrong idea. You can offer different preferences, but you really should key it all off of email address (or an internal key that maps 1-to-1 with email address.)


- Make it easy for folks to unsubscribe. Don’t ask more information than their email address. And, optimally, let them “one-click” unsubscribe by passing the email address in the link.

- Don’t implicitly opt-in people to your mailing list. Ask them. And, as is the trend now, ask twice.

More Info:
Email Labs’ “Spotlight on Double-Opt-Ins”

Peeves and Hopes for 2008

Saturday, 29. December 2007 by Anna Billstrom

Asilomar I had a great, relaxing vacation on the central coast of California, biking along the ocean and eating homemade cioppino, Amish bread, persimmon salads, saffron yeast rolls (lussekatt), on and on. Anyways, returning home and getting online, I had left during the peak time for our email marketing emails. I just moved about 250 marketing emails into one folder, which made me think of trends this year, and what 2008 (hopefully) will look like.


- Increasing frequency. For the last few months I’ve noticed a few companies increasing the frequency during the holiday season- and I know some ESPs even suggest this. There is something called too much, and daily is too much. Macy’s & Toys-R-Us have been doing this- possibly others. Eddie Bauer- once a day for 4 days leading up, then back to 3 times a week. Williams-Sonoma same as EB, every day for the 4 days leading up, then once every few days. Amazon sent one or two near Christmas, but most of it was transactional plus promotional regarding recommendations or my orders.
- Incoherent offers. Free shipping before Xmas, then free shipping after Xmas. Consumers do notice a gimmick.
- All image emails. If I’m a new subscriber, and you don’t introduce some text for me to read in Gmail, I will not load your image (because I have no reason to), unsubscribe or delete your image. You won’t see me as an “open.” You lost my subscription, and you didn’t even know you did.
- All promotion all the time. All of the analysis points to transactional emails and behavior personalization, but some retailers still don’t get it.
- Print-oriented graphics. The “big splash” image with text in the image- does secure the font style, which is great for print, but for email and online, unwieldy. Use commonly installed fonts (arial), and otherwise work with the strengths of online- you can cut it up, make it dynamic, make it interactive.
- Ignoring mobile and RSS. Email marketers who are stuck on email as the only channel. Some of your customers use other channels, and all analysis points to an increasing trend, so look to the future.
- No thank yous. So rude, you marketers! Thank your customers. Do you want loyal returning customers or flash in the pan discount shoppers?


- More transactional emails. It’s working the long tail, and the middle tail, and anything after the welcome email, basically. Look at your customer base, identify segments, email to them specifically. Let them know you’re singling them out. This is great CRM.
- Email Standards Project. I’m excited about spending our time on *not* making a simple email render the same in all browsers. Let’s focus on good marketing, not on technical graphics layout issues.
- More customer insight. Let’s find out what our customers really need, and want, instead of spending time and money on things they’re not that into.
- Diverse syndicated content. Let’s get our marketing message out to various channels easily, in the preferred method of each customer- mobile, RSS, FaceBook, whatever.
- Less spam. This goes along with decreased frequency of marketing emails, above- let’s make sure that all the hard work we do to distinguish ourselves from spam, gain sender reputation, manage customer subscription preferences- is not ruined by management’s short-term dollar interest to send more than 3X a week (best practice).

How Spam (Fails to) Work

Wednesday, 28. March 2007 by Anna Billstrom

To my knowledge- and I don’t know spammers individually, I’ve just pieced this together from the defensive manoevers- spammers spam because there are people who respond to spam, hard as that is to believe. And they manage to keep their costs almost non-existent, illegally. Stealing server accounts, bandwidth, you name it. They also don’t really hold any data- it’s all done on the fly. So corporations will store interactions with customers, whereas spammers randomly generate usernames/passwords/email addresses and just throw it out there and see what sticks. Also, they have a trenchcoat industry. There is no desire to maintain a nice reputation, brand identity, or customer lifecycle, as good corporations do. Also, it’s like a pyramid scheme- as long as they convince someone else that eventually someone will buy, they sell the “starter kit.” See link for some folks who are taking it seriously: FTC Launches Crackdown on Deceptive Junk E-mail

Corporate email marketers, especially the ones from very large companies, are usually very conservative in their email drops. Because it costs money to do it well. To craft a good email message, to extend the lifecycle of the customer, to collect feedback data, and to re-integrate it into another engaging communication, it’s a lengthy and consuming process, that is great when done well, but can be easily destroyed by the wrong email. So in these email marketing groups you will actually see a large base of customers who want communication, but aren’t getting it because they haven’t demonstrated anything recently to show they are active. That’s right- corporations aren’t even emailing all the people they could.

It essentially comes down to the fact that what spammers are usually selling is embarrassing “trenchcoat economy” things- they don’t need to maintain a relationship with the customer after the initial purchase. Most of them actively don’t want to know you- as they just stole your PayPal password, for example. I worked briefly for a company that had a client that was an adult toy company. My excuse was that they didn’t disclose, ahem, all of their clients in the interview (lesson learned!). Doing QA for a them was a joke. There is no quality control, no costs really. You can bring down the server for a day and nobody will complain. So spammers have such bare bone costs because they certainly don’t care about maintaining and creating the same customer relationship as legitimate companies. Here today, gone tomorrow.

There is a tiny bit of guilt that lies with the consumer. This would not go on if folks didn’t buy from them. No one is altruistically sending out millions of emails on Viagra. They’re doing it to make money- so there are people out there buying Viagra. (I’m going to get tons of hits for saying Viagra now, what twice now) At one client, I did an analysis on the response to an email that was a very bland, text-only policy change message that had one tiny call to action after a lot of legalese. The percentage of people who purchased off of that email message, that were opted-out – “don’t send me email”- was 60% of the customers. FYI, the reason we even emailed opted out customers is that kind this kind of service message does not require opt-in permission, as stated in CANSPAM.

This is probably why I’m a fan of AOL’s certification for email- the more expensive it becomes for bulk emailers, the better the distinction between spammers and legitimate companies.


  • “Why Am I Getting All This Spam? Unsolicited Commercial E-mail Research Six Month Report”
  • Most of theanti-spam Wikipedia entry is obviously about how to deter spam, but it has some intriguing insights into spam techniques:

    Background checks on new users and customers
    Since spammers are frequently kicked off the network, they are constantly trying to create new accounts. Many spammers are able to make even a few hours profitable for them and can cause many days of damage to reputation of the services they abused. As a result, many ISPs and web -email providers use CAPTCHAs on new accounts and try to verify the credit cards are not stolen before accepting new customers, check the Spamhaus Project

  • The group that brought you CANSPAM: CAUCE
  • I love SpamAssassin- up to date ratings on what is spammy about your emails. Used as a tool to evaluate your email campaigns, which is kind of a reversal since it is a spam filtering tool. More on this later.
  • If you read this far, you deserve some fun. Starked SF on Spam email subjects he would open.

Why Bulk is Bad

Saturday, 24. March 2007 by Anna Billstrom

There’s this inclination to use email as advertising, and broadcast a message, like a gardener broadcasting by throwing seeds around indiscriminately, instead of planting two seeds 2 inches apart, knowing that at least one of them will spring up through the earth. So if you email 10M folks with a “sale on Charmin,” with little consideration as to whether the customer has ever bought toilet paper at your store, has any interest in paper products, has shopped there recently, or has even opened your emails. After considering the risks of being classified as spam, and seeing the amount of profit you can get from tailored message, it will be clear why bulk is bad.

Spam! Spam! Spam!

The use of the word canned meat to mean tons of litter in your inbox came from:

“Lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce garnished with truffle paté, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam”- I love that line. I generally use this term irreverantly. In corporate marketing, “spam” is like saying “Mordor.” Nobody likes to be associated with those that abuse the system.

I use SpamHaus‘ definition: bulk emails that are unwanted.

The word “Spam” as applied to Email means Unsolicited Bulk Email (“UBE”).

Unsolicited means that the Recipient has not granted verifiable permission for the message to be sent. Bulk means that the message is sent as part of a larger collection of messages, all having substantively identical content.

A message is Spam only if it is both Unsolicited and Bulk.
- Unsolicited Email is normal email
(examples: first contact enquiries, job enquiries, sales enquiries)

- Bulk Email is normal email
(examples: subscriber newsletters, customer communications, discussion lists)

Bulk is What Bulk Is

Bulk to one is not bulk to another.The definition of bulk is relative.

  1. ISPs will consider a rate of transmission, the number of recipients over the time of the send.
  2. Marketers consider this bulk because there is no segmentation- you’re emailing all customers.
  3. Recipients will consider it bulk because it is not personalized, and has no earmark that they are individually being addressed.
  4. Email controllers like SpamHaus and other consumer groups will consider it bulk because the ISPs generally consider it bulk.

Why is Bulk Email so Bad?

Basically, the costs of the bulk emails don’t compare to the profits, over time. Let’s use two scenarios:
1) Bulk message to 10M users, sent once a year.
2) Same offer, but sent daily to relevant targets, based on specific activity.

A creative team member may take a few days to create, get feedback, and finalize. Various other team members contribute to segmenting, transferring, getting approval, working with the vendor, etc. Let’s say two weeks with a staff of 3. This is for a high quality, corporate message. Average Bay Area salary, 75K, 40$/hour. $10,000 in employee labor costs. This cost doesn’t change.

The vendor, though, charges by the thousand. For bulk, let’s round up to $5,000 for the vendor costs in sending this email. Total cost for bulk: $15,000. This does change- the size of the email and the costs entailed with size.

For bulk, the income generated from the blast depend on the customer’s level of interest. For bulk emails, the interest is far less. I’ve seen on average, 0.10% to 0.15% as expected response rates (combination of open/click/view) to a large drop with a generic offer. The purchasers that come out of that- % of purchasers of openers, are usually higher, like 20-25% (of the respondents). So the respondents – 10-15K, and 20% of those, 2 to 3.8 K.
Let’s say the corporation nets $40 profit on each item sold after the sale discount. Total possible upwards income: $150K. Minus cost, $135K.

For an automatic, recurring email based on a customer’s activity. Costs? Creative is the same: $10K. The number of emails sent is far lower, though. Let’s say daily, 2,000 customers qualify for the message each day. Yearly, roughly 700K. Based on the earlier per M rate, that is $350 in send costs. With labor costs, let’s round to 10K. The costs are lower, and the customer response levels are higher.

Generally, responses for automatic, personalized, timely (see Triumvirate) I’ve seen campaigns with anywhere from 20-50% (140K-350K) response rates – that includes opens/clicks/views. On top of that, the purchasers are higher, from 20-30% (7K to 105K) (over respondents). $4.2M in profit ($40 X 105). This was a fast calculation, but you can see quickly that boosting the rate of interest in your customers boosts the entire equation in your favor.

OK maybe numbers don’t convince you. Imagine, a general notice to the entire company that there’s a birthday party in the cafeteria. Imagine your friend swinging by your cube saying, “Let’s get some cake- it’s Sandra’s birthday.”

Quick list about why Bulk is Bad

  • Costs are High. There are static costs- based on volume- but if you increase the customer’s interest, it offsets those costs.
  • Form letters don’t work. Everybody knows they’re receiving a form letter. (See non-personalization in the Triumvirate). You know the joke about online daters sending out form letters with nothing personal in it whatsoever. “I read your profile. You’re hot. Email me.” Everyone can see through that. It’s also a numbers game with the lowest common denominator returns.
  • Degrades reputation.. This is where reputation and brand/corporate identity come in. Everybody can tell (see above bullet), and they file it away with general communication from your company. It says you don’t know how to communicate with your customer, because you probably don’t have the processes to find out who they are, or you don’t care- see “fast buck”.
  • Not recycling efforts. Bulk emails rarely recycling the creative and technical resources created into ongoing automatic campaigns, making those costs even less efficient.

Working on Part 2: Spammers & Corporate Stereotypes

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