July 1, 2008

Email List Rental = Car Rental

by DJ Waldow,

I was recently told that I've been on a "car kick" these past few weeks. It all started with my EEC post on June 13th, "Enterprise: Great Intent, Poor Execution" where I discussed how Enterprise sent me a confirmation email (good) but then continued to send me emails even though I didn't confirm (bad).

Today's post will continue down the automobile comparison road as it relates to the taboo subject of...list rental.

At this summer's Email Insider Summit, I sat at a breakout session where marketers were debating 3rd party list rental. Suffice to say, the discussion got quite heated. Seems like you are either on one side of the fence or the other...not much room in the middle. If you're in good company, list rental is just as dangerous a topic as religion or politics ("the things we don't talk about"). Later that evening, I sat at dinner between a friend of mine from another ESP and a gentleman whose company provides email appends and list rentals. Emotions flew back and forth for over 30 minutes.

Why is the topic of list rental so controversial? But first...

How is List Rental Like Car Rental?

  • The Company: There are scores if not hundreds of different places you can rent a car from. Some are reputable, well-known companies (think Hertz, Avis, Enterprise), while others can be a bit shady (think Rent4Free, Rent-A-Wreck). Most often, you get what you pay for. The same goes for list rental services. Some list rental companies are backed by well-known organizations (see Return Path's Postmaster Network).
  • The Car (List): Sometimes you get a good car (list), sometimes you're not so fortunate. If you are lucky, the car drives well, responds to corners, gets good gas mileage. Other times, you get the leftover clunker that breaks down on the Pacific Coast Highway. Similar to email list rental, sometimes you get subscribers who are really interested in your product/services, more than likely - not.

Why is List Rental So Controversial?

The problem that can occur with list rental is that if you aren't utilizing best practices for subscriber acquisition, then you could end up with a less than engaged audience.  To me, that is the biggest difference.  From what I've seen, list rentals not utilizing best acquisition practices tend to have much lower open, click-through, and conversion rates once engaged in your email marketing program.  In and of itself, lower rates are not a cause for panic, but a damaged reputation is. In my experience, emails not utilizing best acquisition practices, that are sent to rented lists, are more likely to be marked as junk/spam, and have a higher unsubscribe rate.  This is where you can run into issues.

I'm not quite sold on the concept of list rental. But...if you are going to rent, be smart about it. If you think about the first email as an opt-in vs opt-out, you're likely to see a healthier list (with fewer subscribers). In my opinion, worth the trade off. A blog post from August of 2007 penned by Return Path's CEO & Chairman, Matt Blumberg, lists 9 practices that are a must to help obtain higher inbox placement. In the same post, Matt closes with a very real, honest admission

"And, it's worth saying: the key is that we do all of these things. Plenty of third-party marketers do some of them. But deliverability has never been about finding a silver bullet. It's about pulling on all the levers that influence reputation to achieve optimum inbox placement. We're not where we want to be, but we've made great strides improving our reputation and our inbox placement."

I'm not sure I could have said it any better.

DJ Waldow
Account Manager at Bronto

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Comments

DJ, you said:

"“In and of itself, lower rates are not a cause for panic, but a damaged reputation is. In my experience, emails that are sent to rented lists have more complaints, are more likely to be marked as junk/spam, and have a higher unsubscribe rate. This is where you can run into issues.”"

On a hypothetically selfish note, wouldn’t this reflect negatively on the IP address of the list rental agency we are using, and not affect our own provider (in our case, Bronto)? We’ve done list rentals and they are sent through the list rental agency’s servers (or their provider’s).

I think the answer to your question is yes... But, in this instance, there are two "reputations" at stake. One is your email junk/spam reputation that may be protected in this case. The other is the reputation of your brand as a whole. So, the more you associate yourself with bad email practices, the more that will become your brand's reputation.

@Chris - You make an excellent point. The short answer is...it depends on how you define list rental. Depends is the list rental is opt-in or opt-out.

@Eric - I agree with you. Why do something that could intentionally mess up your brand, right?

dj at bronto

I agree with many of your points, especially that you should always use best practices when you are using list rentals. It is definitely important to research where the list is coming from and if it is legitimate or not.

Submitted by pradeep (not verified) on

Nice information, There is obviously a lot. Your points are very valuable and knowledgeable. Thanks for sharing this great blog with us.

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