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I don't know about the U.K. but here in the U.S. being able to purchase lists of potential prospects through list brokers has been a stalwart strategy forever when it comes to direct mail.
It seems to me that if this person is right and email is becoming as accepted as direct mail that the ability to purchase a list would have to become as standard for email marketing as it has been for direct marketing to make it as effective.
My thought is email marketing can never equal direct marketing if there is no way to get a list accept to go through tons of effort to build one name by name every time you wanted to do a campaign. Therefore this prompts a couple of questions for everyone to consider...
1. Is it legal and ethical to purchase email lists as it is with direct marketing lists?
2. If yes, to one above, what should a marketer do to make sure he is running a legal and ethical email campaign?
3. If no, to one, then how can an online channel like email marketing ever rival an offline channel?
1) Entirely legal and ethical (in my estimation) as long as the list is generated via opt-in -- those on the list should be fully aware they are on the list. Double opt-in (they have to type their email address and then confirm the address and check the box themselves as opposed to click a pre-checked box) would be the most ethical and I believe preferable.
3) Numbers, numbers, and more numbers. After the 2004 election, whilst still in college, I ran some analyses for a political science professor assisting in the National Election Survey regarding "get out the vote" campaigns. We were looking at the effectiveness of door hangers, phone calls, door knocking, emails etc. in getting people to register to vote and then actually showing up at the polls -- we were trying to generate an algorithm to predict which individuals were likely to register to, and then actually, vote and what method of contact produced the best turnout and which was the most cost effective. Beyond showing up at their front door, registering them to vote, and then walking them to the polling station months later, email far outperformed everything else. Both in the number of people who took significant action and the cost per action generated. I mean, the cost per email was measured in the hundreths and thousandths of a penny. Sure, the percentage of total contacts who took action was low, but one was able to contact an exponentially greater number of individuals. Not to mention that registering for and then voting are much harder and more complicated than any action you wish your contactees to take (I am assuming you want them to buy something). Therefore, I would posit that the more simplistic and straightforward the desired action is, the greater your success rate in producing actions will be. Thus, email marketing and campaigning can be as, if not more, effective than traditional marketing.
Entirely legal and ethical (in my estimation) as long as the list is generated via opt-in
My thought as well, but the problem is how do you actually know you are buying from a source that obtained all opt-in emails? I am not sure there is a full proof way, but yet, you are still on the hook if anyone reports receiving email they didn't want.
Second, anyone that has done email marketing knows that another problem is people who DID opt-in, but when the message arrives they don't remember or recognize it and thus report it as spam, which is enough to get you booted off entire networks like AOL.
how do you actually know you are buying from a source that obtained all opt-in emails
That I cannot help you with, sorry. I generate my own lists so that I know they are opt-in.
As for your second point, people are idiots. I get plenty of responses to my newsletters from people who are angry they got such mail at their work address, etc. I also get plenty of people who reply to the newsletter, despite the big, bold font that replying will get no response as the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, requesting to be removed from the list...even though the first line is to the effect of "receive this email in error? not want it? click here to remove". Go figure. All laid out to make it convenient to get removed and to explain where you got on the list at and why...yet they still can't figure it out!
I get plenty of responses to my newsletters from people who are angry they got such mail at their work address, etc. I also get plenty of people who reply to the newsletter, despite the big, bold font that replying will get no response as the email address is email@example.com,
I agree, people don't think things through before taking action when it comes to email and it seems to me that people are overly sensitive to email when it comes to crying foul or spam as the case may be. The fact is that because email marketing is in essence "free" to the marketer more people have chosen to abuse the system and hence have created a problem for legit marketers. This doesn't seem to happen with direct mail because the marketer bears the expense of marketing.
However I think all of this just reinforces my point. Until we can find a way to easily buy lists, remove the costs to others for email marketing in someway, and kill all spammers email marketing will never be an equal to offline marketing UNLESS you are marketing to your own in house developed list and have a great system in place.