I got an email recently from a company trying to market their services to me. I was pretty obviously not the target demographic, and I know they got my email from a list of email addresses stolen from online WHOIS database listings of domain name registrations.
How could a well-meaning company go so wrong? I blame the snake-oil salesmen pitching these email lists, and misrepresenting them as 'opt-in' or claiming that as long as there is an unsubscribe link then there is nothing to worry about. Nobody has ever opted into a blanket direct marketing list. Claiming that a direct marketing list is 'opt-in' is misleading at best and fraud at worst.
This is almost exactly what illegal robot telemarketing calls attempt to argue: if you press 'one' to find out who they are then you have a prior business relationship retroactively making their robo-call legal. Like the people who tell you that since the income tax isn't written in the US constitution then you don't have to pay taxes.
It's like laundering money, making these email addresses clean because the dirty guys collecting the addresses aren't using them directly. It doesn't mean that you're safe using them though, or that it's even a good idea.
I decided to conduct an experiment to see whether unsolicited direct mail works or not.
Dear Nonprofit Professional,
I am writing today to ask for your organization’s participation in The NonProfit Times 2011 Salary and Benefits Survey. ((This is the only survey for nonprofit organizations that will provide you with the comprehensive information needed to make key hiring and employment decisions during these difficult economic times.
Dear Nonprofit Times,
3232 Design is not a nonprofit, but I somehow ended up on your email list. What my business does is professional branding, print and web design, and internet marketing consulting, and what I can say with certainty is that you're doing it wrong. Unsolicited 'opt-out' emails to people outside of your target demographic may appear to be a cost-effective marketing tool, but any possible benefits are far outweighed by damage to your reputation. Didn't it seem too good to be true? Because it was.
I'd be happy to discuss with you more effective marketing strategies both online and offline. I'd start by coming up with a more focused and professional brand for you, and redesigning your website and newsletter to better reflect your brand mission. Your website should really sell your more lucrative print subscriptions, which it currently doesn't accomplish. It has to be difficult to attract print subscribers when your articles are available online in their entirety anyway. If you're going to do that you have to have additional value in your print offering. And if you already do, you aren't telling that story on the website at all. Why not have full-text search for all of your back issues so Google can index them, then hide all but the first few paragraphs to non-subscribers? Then at the bottom of each article you can have the subscription form right when your users will be looking for it.
You clearly have good keyword placement on search engines, I'd focus your marketing energy on that and build up your AdWords campaign. You should also ditch your opt-out email addresses and get your email newsletter subscription onto the header instead of hidden behind a click. That way you can have your opt-in email addresses of qualified leads which you can then convert.
I'd also work on carrying your updated brand proposition to your publication, which could use a design overhaul. Just because you cater to nonprofits doesn't mean you can't have a professional-looking layout that better reflects modern design sensibility. I've got a creative brief process that identifies your key design needs and helps you define your unique brand proposition which we can then carry through to all of your corporate communications.
The email address that sent the email bounced my response. Luckily I sent it to their webmaster and their president as well.