Krediidiinfo database email campaign
In response to comments and discussion related to Altex v Tõnu Samuel I admitted that altex used part of the Krediidiinfo database (Inspektor) during a campaign to promote an event called E!UK about one and a half years ago.
To many people this seems a clear cut case of spam and therefore labeling altex as spammers is seen, again by some, as justified.
We reject this. We are not spammers.
- But how can we?
- Isn’t it a clear cut case? After all we acknowledge we sent unsolicited commercial emails in bulk and isn’t that the definition of spam?
- How the hell can altex “get out of this hole”?
Well obviously we have to disclose fully what we did, why we did it, what the results were, what we learnt from it, what we think now and how it has and will affect our behaviour.
Before I start I have to accept that some people will continue to define what we did back then as spam – and we won’t be able to do anything to change their minds.
I also acknowledge that some people in that group will also say/think something like: “you spammed once and therefore you are always going to be a spammer in my eyes”.
Let me just draw a quick parallel or two:
- If someone gets drunk once then are they an alcoholic?
- If someone hacks a computer system without permission are they always a black hat hacker?
- Is a teenager who steals a beer always a thief?
I could go on. You get my point I hope.
Anyway I digress, let’s get back to the main story and start with the context of our decision, our reason or “excuse” to use Krediidiinfo.
It all starts with the planning and promotion of an altex internet marketing event called E!UK. Actually it starts a bit before. You might need to get some coffee this is a long post…
Altex was the creator and driving force of an organisation/group called angloestonian.com. It’s main goal was/is simple – to promote Estonian IT and new media companies to the UK with the end objective of securing an increase in export enquiries.
We held an event in London at the Estonian Embassy where the Estonian Ambassador and representatives of angloestonian member companies spoke and some leading UK new media agencies, bloggers and new media journalists were invited.
The feedback on the event was good enough that we decided to create an event in Estonia. E!UK. So we invited a number of the best/most experienced UK internet marketing professionals to Tallinn, to share their thoughts, advice, experiences etc.
NOTE: For those interested you can find the E!UK presentations on Slideshare.
With flights, accommodation, renting the national library, simultaneous translation with headsets, entertainment of speakers, childcare for speakers’ children etc. it was a pretty large financial commitment.
Knowing the reputations and abilities of the speakers, I hoped the event would be a big hit and the drive to improve and extend anglo-Estonian relations and trade in IT and new media would..take off.
The reality was that the speakers were not well known in Estonia and, my mistake, I assumed people would check them out and go wow! and yes, some people did but not enough. It was looking like the National Library (venue) might not be anywhere near full. I was concerned and had to do something about it.
So we got on the phones, sent emails to our newsletter lists and generally took all opportunities to promote and encourage British Estonian Chamber of Commerce and members of Angloestonian to promote the event too.
Ticket sales improved but still I was not satisfied that the event was getting the attention it deserved so I decided that we need to cast the net wider and so we looked for a database that we could use…..
WHY WE CHOSE KREDIIDIINFO
The Krediidiinfo database was proposed and whilst we had some doubt we were assured that the data was clean, reliable and up to date and complete… mmm it wasn’t, so we had to analyse it quite carefully before use.
At this point I want to clarify that Meelis Ojasild, our email expert, advised me against using the Krediidiinfo database because of the spam issue. I insisted on looking closer and suggested that we could, perhaps, use part of the list where we saw job title or sector relevance.
Given our target audience was fairly broad: IT, marketing/advertising/PR, business owners/directors/senior decision makers/exporters we discovered that 22,274 of the total estimate** 30,000 in the database could be relevant targets.
**This number is an estimate because we do not possess the data anymore and we are working from memory and assuming that the current database size is similar to what it was when we bought it.
We took this 22,274 and split it into 11 groups. The core message for each group would be the same “come to E!UK” but the content would be tailored to each group. The emails were customised/personalised with receiver’s names, company names, industry sector.
This was a mass emailing and unsolicited but it was not “indiscriminate or random” – far from it – it was targeted, segmented and personalised.
THE DEFINITION OF SPAM
Now let’s take a campaign break and look at spam definitions because this is where the crux of the issue lies. It all comes down to whether the content matters or not.
Some, perhaps most, people say. NO, content is irrelevant. It’s only about permission. No permission = spam. QED. These people are non negotiable and I respect their right to this commonly held view. They are the ones who will label this campaign spam (if they have not already!).
See Spamhaus definition for this version. They go even further to suggest that double optin is the only way not to be spam. Optin is not enough… mmm I wonder how most list owners feel when they read that?
Looking at the wider definition of spam on Wikipedia it states:
Spam is the abuse of electronic messaging systems (including most broadcast media, digital delivery systems) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately.
Ref email spam:
E-mail spam, known as unsolicited bulk Email (UBE), junk mail, or unsolicited commercial email (UCE), is the practice of sending unwanted e-mail messages, frequently with commercial content, in large quantities to an indiscriminate set of recipients.
In my mind, it’s this word “indiscriminate/ly” that caused my confusion and internal debate.
It was my opinion at the time (not now, more on that later) that the E!UK message was relevant to the target audiences, segmented and personalised and would “just about” be ok-ish.
The emailing was not indiscriminate. Had I find a technical wording loophole? I convinced myself (temporarily) that I had.
I was never 100% comfortable with the decision to give the green light but I did it – I think Meelis was very disappointed in me. Sometimes in business we make bad decisions. In retrospect this was one of them.
The response to the campaign was fairly good. From the 22,274 who we sent to:
- 1,780 (8%) hard bounced (meaning the Krediidiinfo database was NOT accurate)
- Over 1000 people opted in to receive our newsletter
- 6,495 (29%) opened the email
- 604 (2.7%) visited the E!UK page
According to our tracking, reporting and looking back at invoicing schedules etc. we estimate this campaign generated profit of about 11,000 EEK.
NOTE: We did not use the lists again in any way. The people who were sent a message did not get sent another one.
And here let’s take another campaign break.
THE ISSUE OF UNWANTED VS UNSOLICITED EMAIL
Why do spammers spam? Because it works.
If it did not work they would not do it. The sad fact is that when spam is sent, a percentage of people respond positively and that’s enough (provided the message is not totally crap or irrelevant) to create a profit for the sender.
Let’s also look at unwanted email.
We have an altex marketing newsletter (it’s opt-in). We send out internet marketing news and views etc. Sometimes we promote our events and things we are involved in (e.g. events we sponsor – for example we recently sponsored the Pärnu Management Conference and Best Internet and sent out messages about those.) but of course some people on our list don’t WANT that particular information.
It’s a dilemma of sorts. Spam lists get some response because some people WANT the information even though they have not subscribed. Genuine opt-in lists still send information that some people do not WANT.
For sure you subscribe to email lists and get spam?
- Have you ever responded to a spammed email because you liked the offer/info?
- Have you ever got annoyed with (and instantly deleted) an email from a list you have subscribed to because that particular message is not relevant to you?
Sure you have – if you are human.
This opens up a huge area of best practice debate about content strategy, segmentation, personalisation, deliverability and stuff that would make this post take all week rather than half a day to write – so I won’t/can’t get into it today and anyway this is Meelis’s area of expertise, not mine.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
Back to the campaign.
You have read my thinking, seen what we did and the results.
What did we learn?
- The internal debate and questionable morality, whatever the legality, around what we did led us to very quickly decide to never use the Krediidiinfo database again.
We never did in the past year and a half and we never will. (Please note we never did anything similar before that campaign either).
- Spam works and if the fight against spam is to succeed in Estonia it means people MUST complain.
Take action, don’t just moan on our or other blogs. Don’t just list spammers. Report them to the authorities. Demand action. Lobby for tighter laws. Lobby for higher penalties.
We have taken action against two cases of spam and I have provided details of these to Tõnu Samuel to study. They relate to a Maaleht campaign and a Mynthon campaign. Can someone tell me why Roosa Elevant have not been taken to court when there are so many allegations and “proof” that they spam personal email addresses?
- We (altex) should encourage best practice and raise our own standards. This we have done at events and by uploading presentations and teaching at Tallinn and Tartu Universities and lecturing elsewhere.
I admit we do not operate to Spamhaus standards yet but we are working our way forward and I believe we are one of the cleanest email marketing companies in Estonia, if not the cleanest, despite this old E!UK campaign “blip”.
AND WHAT DO WE THINK NOW?
…Now the sh*t has hit the fan, so to say.
Well, to those of you who have read your way through this (thanks for your time) and who still think we spammed and therefore are spammers for life I say: “You are welcome to your opinion”.
To those of you who see we tried to minimise the spamminess of the E!UK campaign but still stepped over the line and acknowledge that before and after we have been “good”, I say: “Yeah, I hold my hand up, we made a mistake. I guess you are right. We are sorry. It was out of character.”
To those of you who think we did nothing wrong I say: “You are wrong, we did make a mistake. We should not have hidden behind technical definitions and content personalisation as a cover. We won’t do it again and neither should you”.
And we have made a few new decisions thanks to this exposure.
- Actions speak louder than words.The estimated profit (11,000 eek) we made from the E!UK Krediidiinfo campaign will be donated to charity. We will buy IT equipment for a voluntary organisation or charity of your choice. Please give your opinions and we will choose one.
- We will hold an E!SPAM conference in 2010 on March 9th and will invite the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communication, The Data Protection Board, a lawyer, Tõnu Samuel, someone from Roosa Elevant (probably the most accused company in the question of spam), someone from mail.ee and/or hot.ee (two of the largest opt-in list owners in Estonia) and perhaps others. We welcome agenda suggestions.
- We offer to work with others in our industry to develop a voluntary code of best practice for list owners, advertisers and agencies like ours. Anyone want to work with us on this?
- We will investigate what can be done to make reporting spammers easier, cheaper and faster and more likely to produce painful results. Anyone got any suggestions?
PS If you are not familiar with spam regulations in Estonia basically you can currently legally send mass emails to business email addresses (content is a factor on whether it is legally spam) so there is no debate about the fact altex has done nothing “legally” wrong.
So thank you for reading this far. Fire your comments away. No swearing please.
But before you shoot your views perhaps enjoy something a little more light-hearted.