About Bulk Email
and Targeting...

Bob Schmidt
Provider Marketing Group

(from a post to the HTMARCOM list 4-3-96 in a thread that was squashed by Kim Bayne, moderator)

The preponderance of passion over logic in discussions about unsolicited bulk email never ceases to amaze me. Even more amazing is the high proportion of intolerance and indignance to be found among Internet marketers. In my observation, as a group, we seem to be much more incensed by this subject than Internet users in general. Yet, a cardinal rule in marketing is to beware of assuming that one's personal opinions mirror those of the market.

Christopher Kohler wrote: 
> Let's put this in even more perspective. 
>That no method of any "mass" marketing can 
>achieve 100% accuracy sure doesn't mean that
>really low accuracy is acceptable. And these
>spam list compilations are reportedly very 
>poor at any "accuracy" of the kind, other
>than grouping by newsgroup topic, rather
>than any other "qualifying" of those who
>posted there in genuine marketing terms. 

Ok, let's assume that all of this is true. Low accuracy is acceptable, if that is all that can be reasonably achieved. I submit the famous assertion by a Philadelphia retailer earlier this century that half of his advertising was wasted, he just didn't know which half. Today, if one could only claim to benefit from half of one's ad budget, one would not so cavalierly bandy this information about. But at the time, 50% may have been all that was achievable based upon the existing advertising technology. (Perhaps direct mail, A/B splits and the coupon had not yet been invented.) Today, we are in a similar situation with the Internet.

In any event, let us not fall into the trap of assuming that efficiency, technological upheaval and growing markets have anything remotely in common. They do not. Example: if anyone thinks efficiency is part of the Internet experience, just try to keep up with the latest release of Netscape or Internet Exploerer software. If one wants to complain about wasted bandwidth and the cost of downloading, not to mention efficiency and "wasted time", surely the Internet as whole would be much better off waiting till Netscape and Microsoft have completed their programming efforts before we all download yet another beta version. Quite possibly 50% of all existing bandwidth is consumed for the sole purpose of downloading the latest version of a browser. What a sad waste of a precious resource. Yet which of us will valiantly forgo the next download for the greater good?

>You suggest that one might be able to "target"
> lists compiled this way, but fail to mention
>even one possible technique. 

I believe we have a difference of opinion as to the definition of targeting. Targeting basically means that you are reaching a prospect who has a better than random chance of being in the market for your product. The degree of non-randomness will of course vary from one source of prospects to another.

Only through testing can one determine the probable degree of targeting of any given list. This is true, obviously, of all forms of list marketing, whether Internet or non-Internet. Even lists of confirmed purchasers of like products may fail to perform, and how much more targeted can one get?

Perhaps I shouldn't mention this, but in addition to the efficiency parameter we also are confronted with the necessity to engage in repetition in order to achieve a measurable change in consumer behavior.

In other words, brace yourself, because it's going to take repeated mailings to a targeted list (by whatever definition, and in whatever medium you choose) to make the sale. Tolerance would seem to be the byword here.

>That seems to leave: having to read individual
>posts to personally appraise the actual probable
> nature of their interest... which completely
>defies the premise of the program -- automation.
>Might as well cut and paste such addresses,
>one at a time, and use a better database program.

I'm willing to try anything, if it works. However, this is akin to reading people's postal mail to see what they're interested in, or the CIA's content analysis procedures. While it may appear to be an efficient means, is it necessary to point out the cost per thousand associated with these methods makes them prohibitive?

This is not the way direct marketing efforts are conducted, nor the way Internet marketing efforts are conducted, though I eagerly await reports from those who try them. I won't speculate on what they might have to say about such techniques over on the FTC's Privacy list, however.

Don't let Ram Avrahami get wind of this idea. He's already suing U.S. News & World Report for selling his name and address to the Smithsonian magazine for a subscription mailing to 100,000. God knows what he'll do if somebody sends him an email. (Note, though, that ironically his name and address are now published for all to see on the web at his site publicizing his case. So much for privacy.)

>The term "Internet marketers" sure doesn't 
>necessarily equate with "spammers", either.
>And there's every reason to hold them to
>standards as similar elsewhere. 

I couldn't agree more. The point is, the equivalent of spamming is the norm in the "real" world. Only when we put a value judgment on spamming as "wrong" or "breach of etiquette" does it appear to differ from the norms in direct mail, telemarketing and cold call selling. The trend is clear: the Internet is becoming more like the real world everyday, for better or worse. Those that think the Internet is somehow "different" are only partially right. It is also somehow the "same."

Note: Just to clarify my position on bulk email: while I do not advocate its use, neither do I begrudge those who are taking very real risks to find out if itworks. We all need to know whether it does.

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