I can think of some obvious and easy ways the email prospecting folks can raise the bar on the "partner check box" I noted in my previous entry.
Rather than simply presenting me with a box (unchecked by default, please), they should explain how they plan to use my email address, and what I can expect if I check the box. Imagine three approaches:
1. "Check here if you'd like to receive offers and promotions from our partners. Rest assured that your email address will never be given away to our partners directly -- we will manage the list ourselves or through a third-party list manager, and you can come back to our preference page at any time and terminate these partner mailings. None of our partners will send you messages directly unless you explicitly opt-in at their Web sites."
2. "Check here if you'd like to receive offers and promotions from our partners. Please note that we will be giving your email address to a reputable third-party list manager. That manager will make your address available to reputable advertisers. Any messages you receive will provide you both the option to no longer receive messages from those advertisers as well as the option to be removed from the list manager's list altogether."
3. "Check here if you'd like to receive offers and promotions from our partners. We will do our best to only sell your name to reputable advertisers who will honor any opt-outs you subsequently request. However, by checking this box, you agree that you understand that you have explicitly given your permission to be contacted and emailed by third-party advertisers who do not necessarily have any relationship with us outside purchasing your email address."
Am I crazy, or is this approach a whole lot clearer than anything we see today? The list rental folks argue that they get "double opt-ins" and that makes everything okay. To be clear, many list rental companies are quite reputable, and many of our clients, especially B-to-B clients, work successfully with them. However, how many double-opt-in list rental companies, especially the tier-2 players, actually honor single opt-out? How many make it clear that you can stop all subsequent promotional emails with a single opt-out? How many tightly control their lists, and never physically give their lists to partners? And, even if a list rental company does these positive things, if it's promoting brands that are unknown to consumers, those consumers may not trust the opt-out button.
Of course, these companies are not in the relationship business; they're in the name-gathering business. I'm not saying this moralistically, but I'm amazed by how few marketers ever consider this distinction when they are paying to get their products and services marketed.
If the list rental industry, working with its opt-in gathering affiliate sites, were to clarify the kind of permission it gathers for each "partner check box," I suspect we'd see a massive uptick in overall response rates, and in the CPMs paid for rented lists. We'd also see a follow-on drop in false positives because a lot of "gray spam" would disappear, making the job of spam filtering far easier. All-in-all, the world would be a better place.
So, what do you think? Should marketers who rent lists start demanding that their list agencies be totally clear about the kind of permission they've gained? Should the list rental companies be made to work only with sources that make it clear to their opt-in receipts how their names will be used?