Saving e-mail marketing: Surviving spam

A conversation with WhatCounts.com CEO David Geller.

Thinking about sending out an e-mail newsletter or using e-mail to let people know about your service or product?

My advice is you better not even think about doing it without a permission-based double opt-in plan. Spam has really given e-mail marketing a bad name.

David Geller, president & CEO of Seattle-based WhatCounts.com, believes that sending newsletters and requested information via e-mail should be easy and, above all else, upon request.

Geller founded WhatCounts.com in 2000 to offer his publishing tools capable of delivering highly personalized permission e-mails.

WhatCounts features include real-time analytics, content templates, format sniffing, dynamic scaling, import and setup wizards.

A twenty year veteran of the software industry, Geller has been concentrating on e-mail products and technology since 1993, including a tenure as director of engineering for Paul Allen’s famed Internet company Starwave, where he managed the development for ESPN.com and ABCNEWS.com.

David took some time out to explain the fine art of being a good e-mail citizen and how e-mail marketing can be used effectively.

Q: E-mail marketing is getting a black eye because of its association with spam. Do you think e-mail marketing can be saved?

Geller: Boy, you’re right about it getting a black eye. I don’t think there’s any topic out there getting more press than spam. Certainly there is a lot of legislative action. It’s at the top everyone’s mind because it really touches virtually everyone. But e-mail marketing can be saved. There is a silver lining.

Q: What are you doing to counteract that movement? What makes WhatCounts.com different in that pursuit?

Geller: Double opt-in and confirmed opt-in are features we have had since the very beginning. Contractually, all of our clients are guaranteeing that their audience is permission based. They have obtained the names of their subscribers organically through signup forms they own or sometimes through paper signup forms at events.

We don’t go after people looking to rent lists. We are all about data-driven and event publishing. For instance, if you’ve ever ordered a product from Amazon, you’re probably very pleased to get an e-mail saying your order has shipped. Those are the kind of services we provide smaller businesses.

Q: Run down some ways that businesses can use e-mail.

Geller: Commerce is an important one, letting the customer know you received their order, it shipped and how to track the package. This is something people want and is highly permissioned.

Q: Many think of e-mail as a spam type of communication or for newsletters. But it sounds like it is moving off in another direction. Do you see companies starting to use e-mail in a different way more in the future?

Geller: Newsletters are very traditional ways of sending out broadcast e-mail. For instance, the Seattle Times will send out breaking news e-mail.
But exciting things are happening with data-driven e-mail. We’re all becoming more connected. We want to receive information. For instance, if you’re a new parent and just purchased a baby product, wouldn’t it be nice to get an alert from the government or the manufacturer if there’s a recall. Good use of e-mail.

Q: What advice would you offer a business thinking about an e-mail marketing campaign? Would they get a better ROI (return on investment) using e-mail versus other forms of marketing?

Geller: The very reason e-mail is so effective is also the reason that spam has become such a problem. To the person sending the e-mail, it can be so inexpensive that people throw out what’s right and what’s wrong and just pursue outrageous campaigns.

For businesses who have customers – or maybe organizations such as a community, church or school – they just want to communicate with those people.

It’s hard to beat e-mail for cost reasons. It is also hard to beat for ease-of-use. Whereas traditional newsletters require you to author your content, typeset it, publish it and deal with postage, which is a deterrent for a lot of people, using e-mail to communicate to your customers or community is very cost-effective.

More information about WhatCounts is at www.whatcounts.com. The full audio interview can be heard anytime at WebTalkGuys.com.

Dana Greenlee is co-host, producer and engineer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.

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