Third-Party e-Mail Lists: Clicks to Nowhere?

Clickthrough fraudOf the various issues that are on every marketing manager’s plate, concern about the quality of third-party e-mail lists is surely one of them. It’s a common view that the effectiveness of a purchased e-mail data file is worse than a carefully crafted in-house list based on input from the sales team plus opt-in requests from customers.

Part of the reason is that there’s less likelihood for recipients to be interested in the products and services of the company, which only makes intuitive sense. But there may be other, more nefarious reasons at work as well.

Ever heard of a click-o-meter? It’s the way some e-mail lists are made to look more effective than they actually are. In its basic form, this is nothing more than people paid to open e-mails with no other interest or intention of further engagement. The more technical way is to have an automated click setting, usually done through a rotation of IP addresses.

To the casual observer, this gives the impression of recipients who are interested in a company’s offer, but the final analysis will show something quite different: near-zero purchases or other relevant actions. The problem is that for many campaigns, ROI will be slow at first, so the grim reality that the company has been punked comes later.

The growth of the autobot click-o-meter phenomenon tracks with the growing interest in purchasing third-party lists based on cost-per-click (CPC) performance rather than on the traditional cost-per-thousand (CPM) basis. Not surprisingly, when list vendors started being asked to sell lists based on a CPC versus CPM basis, for some of them the temptation to “juice the numbers” was too great. And since many of the databases come from other sources and are private-labeled, the problem is perpetrated throughout the system.

Many purchasers have wised up to this issue by settling on one or two list brokers that they know and trust, by asking about the data source, and by asking for client references for the lists in question. If an e-mail database has suddenly changed in pricing from a CPM to a CPC basis, that may be another cause for concern.

Another option is to hire a third-party traffic monitoring service to assist with back-end analyses of e-mail campaigns to see what’s working or not working in specific campaigns and nip any problems in the bud before they do too much damage to a marketing effort.

But like anything else, self-education is critical. Most companies who are victims of fraudulent e-mail practices become so because their staff members are unaware of the potential problems. But the information is out there for the asking, and that knowledge will soon become “intuition” – usually the best predictor of ROI!

What Social Media is Teaching Us (Again)

Social MediaSocial media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and all that – burst onto the scene only a few years ago. Because of this, we’re still learning daily how these tools are impacting and influencing attitudes about companies and brands … as well as the propensity for people to buy products and services as a result.

But some aspects are coming into pretty strong focus now. One of the interesting insights I’ve drawn from social media is that it spotlights the “disconnect” that exists between marketing and sales personnel.

This disconnect has existed for decades, of course. In my nearly 35 years in business, I’ve heard a common refrain from sales folks. It goes something like this: “I have no idea what those people in marketing do all day long!”

On the flip side, the marketing pros have a few choice words for the sales personnel as well: “All they ever think about is the next order. Unless it delivers instant hot prospects who are ready to buy immediately, they’re not interested in any of our marketing programs.”

This is why so many B-to-B companies have tried to cross-pollinate between marketing and sales by moving staff back and forth between the two areas.

But what company is inclined to gives up its star sales performers to marketing? What happens more often is that the underperforming sales people are the ones who end up in marketing … where they then achieve only middling success there as well.

Conversely, so many of the best sales performers aren’t “God’s gift to strategic thinking” at all … while the marketing people who are so creative and insightful when thinking about markets are woefully inadequate when it comes to keeping up with a Rolodex® full of dozens of sales contacts.

Another part of the problem is the approach to metrics. Marketing personnel have historically been focused on reaching wider audiences. To a salesperson, things like “creating awareness” and “building a brand” are frustratingly fuzzy. Instead, salespeople focus on individual customers, sales quotas and other quantifiable information – real “bottom line” figures.

Today, social media is bringing all of this into sharper relief. To be most effective, social media demand that marketing and sales personnel work together. It’s no longer possible for the two groups to employ different approaches, different interactions and different metrics for success.

To my view, it’s going to be harder for marketing and communications personnel to get their heads around new expectations for metrics and analyses when compared to the sales folks. There are many new analytical tools to be mastered – and that’s probably a source of fear for many a marketer.

For salespeople, who live and die by facts and figures, this is duck soup by comparison.

And if you really think about social media, it’s about audience (customer) engagement in a direct and personal manner. Who’s been doing that for years? The sales force, of course.

So does it make any sense to “silo” social media activity and content development within the marketing department? Generally speaking, no.

In fact, many sales personnel have already embraced social media activities because they see it as another useful tool to leverage customer engagement. This is an environment they already know well, because they’ve always been in the business of building relationships.

So the times demand that marketing and sales team up as never before. For marketers, that means opening up the social media initiative and structuring it to include sales personnel as well the marketing staff. Redlining these tasks won’t work.

And here’s another idea: Have the marketing staff hang around with the sales force. Put them out there at trade shows and other industry events where they are forced interact with customers and behave like … salespeople!

[This is especially true if a company’s marketing staff comes from collegiate or administrative backgrounds – a common weakness in many mid-sized B-to-B firms where the most lucrative upward career paths take employees through engineering, R&D or sales, not through marketing and communications.]

Social media reminds us, once again, that the key to success in business is “mixing it up” with customers and prospects. We need to make sure we do the same inside our own companies.

Signs of the Times

Divine, aka Harris Glenn MilsteadIt absolutely had to happen.

Reports from Japan are that facial-recognition technology is now being incorporated into mall signage wherein the age and gender of passersby are discerned before displaying “demographic appropriate” advertisements to them as they walk by.

NEC, a multinational electronics firm, is experimenting with biometric technology. the ability to scan faces to detect gender and age within a range of 10 years. Not only is the technology being tested in mall signage, but also in vending machinery where “helpful suggestions” will be made to consumers based on their presumed age and gender.

And of course, Japan today means the U.S. tomorrow. In fact, other companies are already testing “gender-aware” technology for outdoor billboards and mall signage here in the United States. Intel has partnered with Microsoft in such an endeavor to design the Intel Intelligent Digital Signage Concept.

Joe Jensen, a manager at Intel’s Embedded Computing Division, sums it up like this: “As stores seek more competitive advantages over online retailers, digital signage has become a valuable technology for dispersing targeted and interactive content to shoppers.”

If gender-aware technology proves to be effective, does this mean that gin & tonics will be now offered to older consumers? At the end of a long day at the office, that could be a tantalizing option for businesspeople hitting Grand Central Station to catch the Long Island Railway home.

Or consider this picture: Legions of “Divine” impersonators (see above) descending upon malls or food kiosks, just to test how well the signage and vending machines can determine true age and gender!

Kidding aside, it’s really no surprise that digital technology with its ability to serve highly targeted, relevant content would eventually work its way into billboards and signage, historically the most “mass” of mass communications. Marketers crave statistical results, and they’re naturally going to gravitate to anything that provides those metrics – no matter how imprecise they might be.