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CLUED IN: How to serve e-mail without the spam

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You can use e-mail in your marketing campaign without alarming the anti-spam vigilantes. You can even prospect with it.

Just follow these simple rules:

• Identify yourself. John Mozena, spokesman for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail, a lobbying group working to outlaw spam, says he's most angry about what he calls "whack a mole" spammers.

"Whack a mole" messages are easy to identify. They usually come from free mail services such as Hotmail or Yahoo!. Sometimes they're bounced off foreign servers in China, Pakistan or Latvia. Often, the headers on a "whack a mole" message are forged, and you can't identify who sent them.

Spammers who lose their accounts quickly come back under new names. Thus the term "whack a mole," after the arcade game in which kids knock game figures on the head, only to see them come back moments later.

On this point, Direct Marketing Association President Robert Wientzen agrees with the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail: "E-mail of any kind should be identified so the recipient knows who sent it, in a way so that the individual can be reached. We believe a name and address would go a long way toward eliminating concerns" about spam.

• Keep it short. Rosalind Resnick, president of Postmaster Direct, New York, which sells "opt-in" e-mail lists, says that even when someone has agreed to take commercial e-mail on a specific topic, the most successful campaigns rely on short messages that users act on by clicking a link.

"The e-mail is just the envelope; it's the Web site that's the letter," Ms. Resnick says. "E-mail is most effective when it's short and simple. People click on a link to go to a qualification form" or buying page.

• First, you give. John Audette, president-CEO of the Multimedia Marketing Group, Bend, Ore., uses e-mail extensively to build business for his clients, but he has never sent an unsolicited e-mail.

Instead, Mr. Audette edits shared mailing lists that are supported by advertising and are about topics such as selling on the Internet or running an effective Web site.

"We've been very conservative," he says. "We publish our own lists and we advertise on existing lists."

• Use a database. The New York Yankees and San Diego Padres have used e-mail effectively, but members of their online "fan clubs" are part of a database, not just a list.

Programs such as Revnet's Unity Mail, from Revnet Systems, Huntsville, Ala.; Lyris from Lyris Technologies, Oakland, Calif.; and Media Synergy from Media Synergy, Toronto, integrate with databases and filter the outgoing messages based on those databases.

If the Yankees want to push tickets for their spring training games, for instance, they may send them only to members of the fan club who live in Florida. The e-mail programs thus become "outgoing spam filters" that make sure each message sent is appropriate for each recipient.

• Be ready to apologize. Cynthia Hollen, president of Knowledge Strategies, New York, often uses opt-in lists for her clients but knows mistakes can be in them.

"Any time we send out a large bulk mailing for a client, we work with them to manage expectations," Ms. Hollen says. "We know they'll get angry responses, people who filled out a form and forgot or who filled it out wrong or who share an account."

By dealing with complaints quickly and graciously, she says, businesses can maintain their goodwill and still use e-mail lists.

Dana Blankenhorn is a free-lance journalist who specializes in Internet issues and is publisher of the Web site www.a-clue.com.

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