E-mail appending has promise, but marketers aren’t sold on it

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Despite the promises of reaching more customers online and providing marketers with cost-effective alternatives to direct mail, the practice of appending e-mail addresses to existing databases of customer information has not caught on. A variety of reasons are to blame for the negligible adoption of the technique, including privacy concerns, the small number of lists available and an unclear return on investment.

The Direct Marketing Association claims appending efforts continue to increase along with the growth in e-mail volume. However, Ann Zeller, VP-research, said that DMA member companies are not practicing appending. "They’re still in the beginning stages of learning best practices," she said.

Appending services offered

Still, e-mail marketing companies, such as Bigfoot Interactive and YesMail Inc., offer appending services. List brokers such as Direct Media Inc. and Worldata also promote e-mail databases, as do data compilers.

However, even an early adopter such as list manager DM2, a unit of Reed Elsevier Inc.’s Reed Business Information, said it is not appending at this time. "We actually did do appending about two and a half years ago, and it was one of my worst nightmares," said Denise Moser, data product development director at DM2. She cited complications because of a lack of opt-in standards.

Jared Blank, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, pointed to at least two reasons for relatively little appending activity. First, marketers are nervous about sending e-mail without permission. Brightmail Inc. claims that 40% of Internet e-mail is unsolicited bulk e-mail. Another reason, Blank said, is simple economics. "[Marketers have] spent a lot of time and money building house lists, and they want to concentrate on that," he said.

Not equipped to append

With slimmed down marketing departments, Blank said, companies aren’t equipped to handle appending. "If you haven’t been successful extracting value from your house list, it’s probably not a good idea to spend more money [on appending]," he said.

DM2 has considered tests of appending, but it decided not to because of the cost and potential privacy violations. "It is at least $1 to $2 per append," Moser said. "That’s a lot. You’ve got to have serious ROI."

Moser maintained that because e-mail list quantities are much smaller than postal numbers, they are not worth the effort. "It’s not going to add enough revenue for the work involved," she said.

Response rates are another factor, and appending comes up short, said Ben Isaacson, principal at consultancy The Isaacson Group. "Appended e-mail [files] do not work as well as house files," he said.

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