E-mail Prospecting Can Still Hit Gold

Jan 11, 2006 1:55 AM  By

Don’t tell Robert Rosenthal the e-mail list-rental market is dead.

Conventional wisdom has had it for some time—since the dot-com crash of 2000 and passage of the Can-Spam Act of 2003—that e-mail is good for retention, but not prospecting.

But Rosenthal’s Maynard, MA-based direct-response ad agency, Mothers of Invention, formerly Passaic Parc, was able to generate conversion rates—defined as the percentage of recipients who downloaded a free white paper—as high as 13% in a business-to-business campaign using rented e-mail lists. Visually grabbing creative, an enticing offer, and a highly targeted campaign no doubt helped drive the campaign’s success.

The campaign—sent to about 20,000 chief information officers of companies with revenue of $100 million-$1 billion—was aimed at generating leads for Extol Business Integrator, a software application that, according to its creator, Extol International, allows companies to integrate business information systems without the manual coding normally associated with such projects. “Want to deliver faster results with integration?” asked the headline. “Start by addressing a hairy problem.”

Under the headline was a graphic of a middle-aged senior executive with a monkey on his back. “That monkey on the back represents manual coding used to connect isolated applications,” began the body copy.

“Actually it’s a chimp,” Rosenthal says. “Monkeys are so little, and we figured no one would notice the difference.” He adds that the image was a computer-enhanced combination of two stock images. “We had to look at a ton of chimp shots and a ton of executive shots to pull this off.”

Under the executive/chimp graphic, the ad invited recipients to download a free white paper that promised to show how to cut integration time by 50%.

“Extol has a platform that can literally cut the time required to integrate these applications by literally 50% to 90%,” says Rosenthal. “If you’re a CIO, the hairy problem is that you’ve got people in your organization with a mentality oriented toward manual coding. Until you get that monkey off your back, it’s going to limit your business opportunities.”

The ad—which can be viewed at www.passaicparc.com/extol–also offered the first 100 respondents free tickets to the movie “King Kong.” “We figured as long as we’ve got this monkey thing going, why not ride on the coattails of that?” Rosenthal says.

The campaign went to 20,000 addresses on five rented lists. Testing for this campaign was confined to the lists.

Because of the time involved in sales of Extol’s integration application, it is too early to measure the final results of the campaign. The download rate indicates promise, however, especially given that one sale will more than pay for the campaign, says Rosenthal.

Moreover, he says, the idea that e-mail is only good for retention “is a bogus conclusion.” Marketers who think that rented e-mail lists can’t be used for prospecting are probably drawing the conclusion from their own failed efforts, he contends.

“Eighty percent of what is going out [via commercial e-mail] is mediocre to sh*t,” says Rosenthal. “The reality is that for a lot of advertisers, when we have good reasons for going to e-mail, we’re still getting responses via e-mail that are as good or in some cases even better than direct-mail response. Only, of course, the cost is less.”

Rosenthal isn’t the only direct marketer who has concluded that e-mail is viable for prospecting, according to Deb Goldstein, president of Framingham, MA-based IDG List Services, the list management and brokerage unit of International Data Group. Goldstein says that like everything else in the commercial e-mail industry, her company’s e-mail rental business suffered greatly during the dot-com crash and the economic slump that followed, but the company’s e-mail-rental business began to significantly pick up about six months ago.

Goldstein theorizes that one reason for the pick-up in e-mail rentals for her company is that a significant percentage of technology marketers—which make up the bulk of IDG List Services’ customers—are more comfortable with e-mail than postal mail. “For a lot of the marketing people who came up through the dot-com era, e-mail was their medium of choice,” she says. “They don’t have the acumen or the affinity to deal with the production aspects of traditional direct response.”

She adds that marketers are getting better at sending relevant e-mail. “I’d say overall, they’re getting smarter. The other thing is they’re taking more advantage of e-mail’s measurability.”