Why the current opt-in e-mail model won’t work

Opt-in e-mail. You get to select from a wide range of lists, in specific-interest categories, and you're assured that "100% of the people on these lists have asked to receive targeted e-mail messages from mailers like you."...

Opt-in e-mail. You get to select from a wide range of lists, in specific-interest categories, and you’re assured that "100% of the people on these lists have asked to receive targeted e-mail messages from mailers like you."

It sounds great. But is it?

Turns out there are three major problems – and a bunch of minor ones – with the way some current opt-in e-mail list managers are operating.

The first is that when opt-in e-mail addresses are sold or rented there is a "disconnect" between where consumers left their addresses and the third-party marketer who ultimately sends them an e-mail.

Here’s an example – you’re surfing on a financial services site that invites you to leave your e-mail behind to receive more targeted information. Sounds reasonable, so you leave your address. Two weeks later, you receive e-mails from a deluge of third-party financial services marketers with whom you have absolutely no relationship. By this time, you’ve forgotten with which company you originally left your e-mail, so you’re convinced you’re being spammed – even though you "opted-in."

Most opt-in e-mail marketers would tell you there’s no difference between this and direct mail. But there is. For the most part, direct mail is not so "in-your-face". And the Web culture thing – you know, "If I want it I’ll go get it" – is ingrained and not likely to change.

The second major problem lies with "tag-along prospecting". That’s where you receive an e-newsletter that you have asked for and at the bottom of the newsletter are a bunch of related Web sites and a few lines of text. Neat. But the point of your signing up for the e-mail newsletter in the first place was to receive the newsletter. Period. You may or may not make time to visit the related Web sites – that is, if you make it to the bottom of the newsletter in the first place.

When marketers prospect via e-mail, they want their message to be front and centre (unless they’re placing banner ads to build some name recognition). Ride-alongs have a place, but they tend to generate very low response.

The third major problem with the way opt-in e-mail programs are being run today is that the marketer’s promotional messages are not being vetted by anybody who cares about the offline relationship with the recipients. The reason why the direct mail list rental business has remained credible for so long is because the owners of the lists have a genuine relationship with the people on their lists. The publishers of Canadian Quilting Magazine are not going to allow any direct mail to reach their readers unless that mail is of interest to their readers. List managers vet mailers by reviewing sample mail pieces and the final decision always rests with the list owner.

The companies that are assembling opt-in e-mail lists are doing so for the sole purpose of selling the names to make money. They may not care what kind of message is being sent. Oh, some will take the high road and tell you that they give their "members" opportunities to unsubscribe at any time. But at the same time, they’ll rope people in to leaving their e-mail addresses by offering them free stuff. The free stuff usually means visiting another Web site, where the person, of course, needs to leave their name, address and e-mail.

All this ranting doesn’t mean that opt-in e-mail is not a good thing. In fact, it can be a great thing if it’s done properly.

So what’s the formula for success? Easy. The formula for success is to build on the already successful list-marketing model.

Picture this. You subscribe to Canadian Quilting Magazine. As part of your communication with the magazine you reveal your e-mail address and you tell them it is OK to communicate with you in this way.

Now, if you were to suddenly get e-mails from quilting-related marketers you didn’t know, you might be a bit miffed and assume you were being spammed (remember the in-your-face, Web culture thing?)

However, if Canadian Quilting Magazine were to send you an e-mail that specifically pointed you toward a Web page and told you the editors thought you might be interested in what the site had to offer – that’s a different story. Here’s why: Your relationship with the magazine has not been compromised.

So, is everybody happy? Let’s review the players.

The client submits their Web page URL to the e-mail list manager who vets it through the list owner. If approved, the client gets their Web page endorsed by the list owner. Yup, the client is happy because their message is being delivered to people who have shown a true affinity for the category.

The e-mail list owner approves only those Web pages that would potentially be of interest to their most important asset – their customers. Plus they can earn revenue for delivering a targeted message. Yup, they’re happy too.

The e-mail recipient receives targeted information from the same company to which he or she has given permission to send e-mails. The recipient also receives an opportunity to opt out of receiving any further recommendations. So yeah, they’re happy too.

The key to ensuring the success of e-mail prospecting is to be completely overt. No hiding behind surveys and contests. No piggybacking on newsletters. If current e-mail marketing practices continue, consumers are going to rebel. And don’t forget – the customer is in control. Changing an e-mail address is as easy as changing your mind.

Don Lange is senior vice-president of the Cornerstone Group of Companies. Cornerstone is one of Canada’s leading suppliers of direct response goods and services. Cornerstone recently announced the launch of Cornerstone Web Media dedicated to prospecting on the Internet and opt-in e-mail list management.

Also in this report:

- The next generation of Net tools: Permission-based e-mail, online behaviour profiling, customized content delivery on the rise p.D12

- System links agents, data warehouse: Pivotal combines technologies required to build successful e-relationships p.D17

- Direct Tech p.D18

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group