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Self-Promotion with Emotion

Obedience School

Momma Always Said

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The Bulk Email Blues

For those of you who have finally made the switch from quill pens and illuminated manuscripts to monitors and modems, spam is unsolicited bulk email -- those messages that show up unbidden in your mailbox, offering everything from herbal Viagra to XXX hot teenage babes (hint: herbal Viagra first, teenage babes later).

For every IP who wants to advertise quickly and cheaply (i.e., all of you), learning about spam is akin to finding the Holy Grail. According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), spam will sell your product or service for just pennies per person. Unscrupulous spammers who forge email headers and peddle porn are giving this great advertising tactic a bad name, says the DMA, but that shouldn't stop honest IPs like yourself from giving it a try.

So when one of those "Make $$$ with Bulk Pro Stealth Email" messages shows up in your mailbox (which it inevitably will), should you say "Yea" or "Nay"? I asked several businesses that have tried spam whether they'd go back for a second helping.

When Spam Bites Back

Erica Shames hired a bulk email company to advertise subscriptions to her magazine, Susquehanna Life. Unbelievably, the ad scored more than 400 responses. Believably, the responses consisted mostly of four-letter words. Shames received ten orders from the 250,000 addresses that she mailed to, for an astonishingly low response rate of .004%. The bottom line: she didn't even earn back the cost of the bulk email service.

Can the spam, 1; ask for seconds, 0.

Wade Hyde, partner at the Dallas-based marketing, PR, and special events firm Brandon Hyde, once worked as VP of marketing for a real estate investment company. The company decided to give bulk email a try and hired an outside firm to tout the company's stock. The results? "The complaints were continuous and even hostile," says Hyde, who had opposed the spam plan. "On more than one occasion I received life-threatening phone calls. Clearly, the decision to spam was exceptionally bad, and I cannot imagine that any marketing endeavor would profit from it."

Can the spam, 2; ask for seconds, 0.

Shel Horowitz, an independent marketing and entrepreneurial consultant, experimented with spam and wrote about the experience in his book Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring. He mailed three different ads to 570,000 addresses and received a whopping 120 inquiries. Of those, says Horowitz, only six actually bought a book -- a pathetic .001% conversion rate.

Can the spam, 3; ask for seconds, 0.

Author and self-publisher Lisa Rogak bought a database of media email addresses. "I did a number of email press releases tied in with my novel Pretzel Logic, and the results were mixed," she reports. "I got an awful lot of bouncebacks -- maybe five percent -- plus many [people saying] 'Remove me from your mailing list.' I did get around five interviews as a result, print and radio, so I can't say it was all bad. But the media are getting very leery of receiving bulk emailed press releases from people or companies they don't know."

The ad campaign was eventually moved offline because it generated so many complaints. "I'm sticking to fax and hardcopy releases from now on and more focused releases based on media newsletters I receive," says Rogak.

Can the spam, 4; ask for seconds, 0.

No Free Lunch(eon Meat)

I hate to use a cliché (especially since some astute readers will remember that I railed against clichés in my first column), but you get what you pay for. To compound my hypocrisy, I'll add that there's no such thing as a free lunch... especially if the main course is spam.

What's an IP to do? It seems like some divine joke that there's this quick and cheap communication device called email, millions of potential clients staring glassy-eyed at their computers every day, and a $29.99 mailing list with these prospects' email addresses readily available -- and you can't use any of it.

Opting for Opt-in

Hey, no one said you can't use bulk email as a marketing tool -- it's just that the unsolicited variety that will get you cyber-tarred-and-feathered. The trick is, hit people who won't throw a hissy fit when they open your message, i.e., those who have actually asked to hear from you. This technique is called "opt-in" because these folks have opted to receive your mailings.

You can either build your own opt-in list or use a mailing service such as Postmaster Direct or eClass Direct, where people ask for mailings from companies in their areas of interest. To build your own list, Kim Kalapus, director of interactive public relations for the online marketing firm e/y/e/s/c/r/e/a/m interactive, suggests including a box that visitors to your Web site can check to opt-in to future mailings when they request information, make an order, or otherwise interact with your site. Another idea is to come straight out and ask visitors to enter their email addresses to receive your goodies on a regular basis.

Y'know how some people have an insatiable urge to forward every scrap of information they receive by email? I'm talking about your Uncle Lou who feels the need to keep poor Craig Shergold drowning in get-well cards, or that friend who passes along jokes that are too stupid to survive by word-of-mouth alone. You can take advantage of this phenomenon, which Kalapus calls "the viral aspect of email," to spread your marketing message to the far corners of the Internet without resorting to spam. The trick is to send your opt-in prospects something that will save them time or money… something that will entertain them… something that will make them say, "Oh my God, I must forward this to every last person in my address book immediately." Some ideas:

  • Offer an email newsletter with updates, news, offers, and helpful hints.

  • If you're a graphic designer, put up a page of free clip art that you've created. Whenever you add a new graphic to the page, email your prospects to let them know.

  • If you're a Web designer, put up a page of background patterns, buttons, code for forms, and other elements that your prospects can incorporate into their sites.

  • Invite prospects to check out your latest article, client Web site, or media appearance.

  • Let prospects know when you've updated your (immensely helpful) Web site.

So there you have it: You can use the power of email to reach your prospects -- without being mistaken for a XXX hot teenage babe.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Linda Formichelli if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

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