January 29, 2010 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Do e-mail blasts actually work?

I'm working for a real-estate company in Puerto Rico. Our advertising agency is suggesting we do an email blast targeting Puerto Ricans in the States selling units in a huge building that we're finishing.

Our in house PR person says e-mail blasts don't work. I for one don't even open them- I don't even open the e-vites I get.

Do email blasts work at all?
posted by octomato to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Spam? Work? Uh... You're not selling viagra, so probably not.
posted by beerbajay at 6:38 AM on January 29, 2010

They work for us, but we've carefully built up an opted-in list of people who actually want our stuff.

In your situation I'd say no.
posted by curious_yellow at 6:50 AM on January 29, 2010

Odinsdream nails it. Any calculation I have ever seen supporting spam always leaves out any negative impact, such as being added to a million spam filters, not to mention general harm to your company's image.
posted by rokusan at 6:51 AM on January 29, 2010

@odinsdream I think we're in complete agreement.
posted by curious_yellow at 6:58 AM on January 29, 2010

I doubt it. Very very few people buy things from unsolicited e-mails. And like odinsdream says, people assume there is zero cost, when that is almost certainly not the case.

On the other hand, as curious_yellow says, people who are already doing business with you and have opted in to your lists may very well buy from you. I do buy things from the e-mails sends me, for example. But I've never bought anything from an e-mail that came from a company I wasn't already doing business with.

It's interesting that your proposed target audience is Puerto Ricans who live outside Puerto Rico (if I understand your question correctly). Are you expecting that they'll be enticed to move back to Puerto Rico because of your e-mail?
posted by Vorteks at 7:01 AM on January 29, 2010

Tell your advertising agency that filling an entire building with people stupid enough to respond to spam is a very, very bad idea.
posted by flabdablet at 7:02 AM on January 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you have a targeted list of opt-in subscribers, I'd say go for it. I used to work for a large (400+ people) US company that made $100mil/year by mailing/monetizing companies e-mail lists. You are better off mailing through an advertising company instead of doing it yourself, as they know the ins and outs of CAN-SPAM and already have the hardware and systems in-place to do mass-mailings.

The response rate from e-mail is typically very very low, so you'll need to make sure that you have a large-ish list of -targeted- users. (the company that I worked for wouldn't even mail for you unless you had >10million addresses).

I recommend, which may work for you if you have a small list of recipients.
posted by adirondack at 7:06 AM on January 29, 2010

Do email blasts work at all?

If they didn't, people wouldn't do them. Period.

You can make all the moral arguments you want, and there's certainly a debatable degree of effectiveness, but there's the answer to your actual question.
posted by mkultra at 7:17 AM on January 29, 2010

Do email blasts work at all?
If they didn't, people wouldn't do them. Period.

You should try this logic out in the homeopathy thread. See how it goes.

People do them because they think they work, or as per this question, because some marketing genius tells them they work, and people do them because they fail to add up the negatives.

If there's real research on effectiveness that actually accounts for the negatives, I've yet to read any.
posted by rokusan at 7:25 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you ad agency wants to do a targeted email blast, they need to show you some key metrics that they measure for other clients, including:
Hard and soft bounces
Click-throughs (when someone clicks a link inside your email)
Spam flags

Those numbers allow you to measure ROI - return on investment - in the service. If you mail out 1,000,000 emails, and 10% are opened, then you have a respectable 100,000 opens. But of those, how many click through to your site? 10% of those? Then you're at 10,000. Still pretty good! Ten percent doesn't sound so bad.

But now, ask them how many of the original 1,000,000 emails got a hard bounce. If the answer is 50%, they're selling you bad lists with invalid email addresses. If you have a good relationship with this agency, try to negotiate a per-email contract which discounts hard bounces.

And how many flag your email as spam is directly related to whether your email is spam. I know that sounds like a big duh, but really! Most reputable large-scale providers of this service take lists very seriously - they accept opt-in lists only, and can sue you if you mail a random list. If your advertising firm is giving you "warm leads" or cooler, you ARE likely sending spam - aka emails to people who have not previously opted in to receive your emails - and they know they can't get one of the giants to do it (Constant Contact and the like) because of their TOS. So they'll be coming from your own server. And in a worst-case scenario, you may find your host blacklisted. If your host blacklists you for spam complaints, think of the damage that can do to your company: total loss of all email and net, not to mention a huge blow to your reputation.

So, there's not quite enough info on here for me to make a real recommendation for you because I don't know enough about who you're mailing to, but those are some things to consider. At the very least, ask your ad agency to provide the above metrics for another campaign they did.
posted by juniperesque at 7:26 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

An email blast can work as a part of a carefully developed campaign, but as odinsdream indicated, there are significant costs to developing a campaign carefully. How are you going to measure success? Are you going to test multiple subject lines against one another? Do you have a reliable list of Puerto Ricans in the US who have opted into receiving this information? What if, say, Comcast blacklists you anyway?

Yeah, an email blast can work, but it depends on what you mean by email blast.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:33 AM on January 29, 2010

Email blasts only work if you have built up a relationship with the recipients.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:10 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whether they "work" and whether they're a good use of resources are really two different questions.

mkultra is right; they do "work," in the sense that some people do respond to them, and that they are so cheap to produce and send that the amount of money you make back from them will sometimes exceed what you spent.

However, they "work" in a way that is clumsy, brutish, obnoxious, and alienating. More significantly, they are aligned with an ancient advertising idea that there is really no way to target a message to the right people; you just have to carpet-bomb a huge slice of the population, and do a lot of collateral damage.

I'm talking about unsolicited emails here. Opt-ins are a different story. But in my experience, the term "blast" is usually associated with unsolicited emails, and the metaphor is appropriate.
posted by bingo at 8:41 AM on January 29, 2010

Given the years I've worked at ad agencies and doing marketing client side and all their email blasts here's what I'll say...

First, your list quality is everything. There are three real options when it comes to acquiring one:

1. Buy a list, which I highly recommend AGAINST doing since NOBODY with a quality list actually sells it.

2. Rent a list, which means the company you rent it from is assumed to have a prior relationship with the people on said list and they would send the email blast on your behalf. This is common if you go through a publisher for example. The benefit is that any spam complaints only impact their emailing ability.

3. Build your own inhouse list. This is by far and away the best option in the long term. People will be opted-in (or ideally double opted-in) and specifically interested in what you are offering. You will see much better open rates, CTRs, and most importantly conversion rates compared to the other options. A good house list can be a company's most valuable asset.

So what I would do in your situation is look into doing a little event marketing that targets the audience you are after and collect email addresses/opt-ins that way and then email to them.

And as always, test test test, because what works for someone may not work for you.
posted by Elminster24 at 9:57 AM on January 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, if you do rent a list or your agency does, make sure you are not paying for any bounces. It is very typical to have terms where you are prorated for any bounces. If they refuse, tell them you aren't doing the campaign then because there is no reason you should pay for a poorly maintained list. Nobody who rents lists regularly tolerates that crap.
posted by Elminster24 at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2010

Opt in lists work well.

Some major B2B companies have most of their marketing budget in direct ads because they can make it work.

The more you can customize to the recipient, the better it would work. No random spamming please.
posted by friedbeef at 5:18 PM on January 29, 2010

I would never spam, but some shady marketing guy convinced my company once to buy a whole bunch of "opt-in" email addresses in our area...we didn't get even once response. Big waste of money.
posted by radioamy at 7:32 PM on January 29, 2010

The only people who call them, "blasts", are marketers. The rest of the world calls them, "spam", and wishes the marketers would go to hell.
posted by dustsquid at 8:36 PM on January 29, 2010

What is an "email blast"? Is it Latin for SPAM? Don't be a spammer. Don't run the risk of getting your mail server blacklisted. Unless you are sending to addresses that have opted-in to receive mail from you, you are a spammer plain and simple. Remember, most people delete unsolicited email as a matter of course (or their mail client and/or server filters it for them so they never see it), so even if spamming sounds like a good idea to you, it really isn't. It's a waste of everybody's time.
posted by humpy at 1:17 AM on January 30, 2010

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