List Rental Is…
Peter Roebuck of AllWEBeMail (a division of All Web Promotion, Inc.) recently left a comment on Laura Atkins’ blog:
rented email addresses, if done properly, should be no different from renting physical mailing addresses. With over 25 years in direct mail catalog experience, we know that catalogers are sending fewer catalogs and moving from print media to other alternatives, most significantly email. I believe that in time, these catalogers will begin renting/trading their email lists just like they currently rent/trade their physical mailing addresses. Once they figure out how to do this legally and ethically, I hope that this type of prospecting will become feasible and an alternative to others like Google PPC.(Roebuck 2009b)
This seems like an odd comment from someone in charge of a company that just a couple of months ago blogged that list rental is a really, really bad idea (Nolley 2009).
In fact, the comment left by Peter to that post would seem to confirm that it’s a bad idea (Roebuck 2009a)
The reason why it is a bad idea is found in the difference between industries, and, indeed, in the difference in attitudes found toward those industries.
The first thing to examine, of course, is the different ways that addresses are viewed. This is a difference in the attitudes found toward the different mailing industries. In the mainstream direct marketing world the address list is considered the property of the firm without any consideration given to the address holder outside of their demographic characteristics. In the email industry, on the other hand, the recipient has been given a wide array of tools to deal with the flood of email that is swamping them.
Unlike dealing with their postal mailboxes, people can filter their mail into folders and set various priorities on what they receive. Mail from people they do not know may never been seen, much less read. While I am against Challenge/Response implementations for technical reasons (such as its propensity to send backscatter), just imagine for a moment the fits that the direct marketing industry would have if a similar scheme to the common “just hit reply to release this piece” scheme were required to reach a postal mail customer!
Not only that, but they have the ability to tell their providers that a mail stream is something that they have no desire to see. The result of that ability, in aggregate, may be that the mail stream is denied entry into the provider’s mail system completely. Imagine, again, what would happen if the US Postal Service were to tell a mailing firm that they had generated too many complaints and so their mail was no longer welcome.
And finally, there are a variety of mail filters out there designed to check various reputation lists and reject mail that doesn’t have a good reputation. We all know that they are sometimes (even if not very often) wrong, but they remain a fact of life.
So, look again at our comment and see that someone is assuming there is no difference between rented postal direct marketing lists and email lists (it’s the “addresses” that are rented, not the eyeballs behind them). There is a vast world of difference found in the ability to use tools to limit the flow of email. When dealing with email you simply cannot afford to discount the sense and sensibilities of the person who reads that account. If you make them mad, they don’t have to be content with just throwing the piece in the trash, but they can take steps to shut off the mail flow that you’re sending.
That assumption is dangerous in the extreme. The main lesson learned from their own blog post is that rented lists do not sell merchandise. The much larger lesson is that it’s a whole new world out there for direct marketers. One where the recipients have tools that allow them to state their preferences.
And it’s a new world where the old rules still don’t apply.
- Nolley, Barb. 2009. “Don’t Rent an Email List … It’s a Waste of Money!” AllWebEmail Blog. May 21, 2009. http://blog.allwebemail.com/2009/05/dont-rent-email-list-its-waste-of-money.html.
- Roebuck, Peter. 2009a. “Blog Comment.” AllWebEmail Blog. May 22, 2009. http://blog.allwebemail.com/2009/05/dont-rent-email-list-its-waste-of-money.html#c2806615666462658446.
- ———. 2009b. “Blog Comment.” Word to the Wise Blog. July 24, 2009. https://wordtothewise.com/2009/07/another-list-purchase-horror-story/#comment-5485.