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Debating Appending

There was a session at the recent Email Insiders Summit that discussed appending. I wasn’t there, but I’ve been hearing about the session, including one description that involved the term ‘fist fight.’
I have found a couple articles about the session.
E-Append Comes Under Fire
Email Insider Summit Email Append Panel — The Day’s Hottest Debate
I encourage folks to read both articles and watch the video posted by Return Path. I agree with different points by folks on both sides of the debate. Appending can be a useful acquisition strategy for some companies. But we can’t pretend there’s any permission involved in common appending strategies.
Ignoring the lack of permission, I believe that the companies saying it is a successful strategy share some common factors.

  1. They are companies with high brand awareness
  2. They are companies with sufficient resources to commit to long term marketing strategy.
  3. They have a mature direct marketing strategy.
  4. They have a well maintained customer database.
  5. They have funds to use a decent appending provider.

Of course most of those factors also mean that those same companies could send unsolicited email to non-customers and have success with that strategy.
My experience, and the experience of many delivery people, is that appending causes a lot of problems. But I’ll be the first to admit that we only see the incidents where it doesn’t work. If an ESPs customer does an append and it doesn’t cause delivery problems, then the ESP will probably never know.
Does this mean I support appending? Not really. I land firmly on the side of permission and that recipients should have control over the email they receive. Unless the recipient is actively involved in the appending process, and giving their permission for their address to be sold to a company, there is no permission involved. So I won’t advocate it, or support its use. I think that opt-out appending doesn’t scale in the same way that spamming doesn’t scale.
 

4 comments

  1. Al Iverson says

    I’m tired of people saying that you can do email append if you just “do it right.” Stealing car stereos can make you money, if you “do it right,” but at some point, you need to be better than that. The word “right” has multiple meanings, and sometimes, the right thing to do is to not do the thing at all.
    An email append process invariably ends up trying to force mail in front of people who didn’t specifically request that mail. Even if it works for company X, it is not a scalable practice, it is not a best practice, and it is not a consumer-friendly practice.
    It’s interesting to note that for every one or two guys who has changed their opinion on append and who now say it is awesome, there are the same number of companies who changed their mind in the other direction, and today say it is folly.

  2. Steve Henderson says

    “Ignoring the lack of permission….” +1

  3. Andrew Kordek says

    Laura,
    I was on the panel and can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that the term “fist fight” is a little exaggerated. While the discussion did become a little heated, I think there was still a high level of professionalism from both sides of the debate.
    That said, my position is that eAppends can work if the company invests the time, commitment and resources needed for it to be done right. Al, I respect your opinion but truthfully if eAppends are done in a systematic and controlled way, it can work for some companies. In fact, at a recent client engagement I found out that the company was in fact doing eAppends. After a thorough investigation over the year of this practice, we found that the complaint rate and unsub rate was lower than that of the organically acquired email address. Now..this is a rare case, but it does show that eAppends can work, but (I mean this as a strong BUT) not all..in fact most companies should never attempt them.
    As the Co-Founder of a strategic email marketing agency, I, nor any of my employees have ever recommended eAppends to a client. In fact, we believe as an agency that there are many more effective strategies than eAppends and would not put it into any of our acquisition recommendations. However, if the organization is completely committed to eAppending as an acquisition tactic, we will work with them to ensure that it is optimized and effective long term.
    We can debate as an industry ad-nauseum about permission, whether its right or wrong etc…but truth be told, a lot of brands at EIS raised their hands indicating that they were either doing eAppending or have done eAppends. I think we owe it to the marketer to arm with knowledge about doing them right or at the very least looking at the long term financial impact of doing them if done with very little thought behind them.
    I enjoyed the debate and respect the opinions of those opposed to the practice. My opinion has changed over the years on doing them, in part because I have seem some success’ with the practice. However, the practice and tactics of using eAppends as a part of an effective acquisition strategy are and should remain to a select few of organizations that are willing to invest time, resources and patience.
    Andrew Kordek
    Co-Founder, Trendline Interactive
    @andrewkordek

  4. Al Iverson says

    I don’t disagree that some people can get away with it. That doesn’t make it a best practice. It doesn’t make it a consumer friendly practice. It doesn’t even make it a reliably reproducible practice. I think a lot of folks who think they’re succeeding are really in a position where enforcement and reputation hasn’t yet caught up with them. Actually, I don’t just think it, I know it. Spamtrap hits are often a lottery. Enforcement is a lottery. Abuse desks and blacklists are busy and not every bad sender always rises to the level of notice or enforcement.

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