For the past year I’ve been immersed in my son AJ’s college search.  We’ve visited 11 schools, some of them twice.  It’s been fun and one of the funny outcomes is that I have realized that I would be happy to go to college now. 

I’m not serious of course.  But there are some schools who think otherwise.  Three colleges have begun courting me.

And by courting I mean sending me multiple emails with subject line hooks such as “Your reputation stands out,” “Discover what you want out of college,” and “Time is running out, Evelyn!”  Each email is signed by a prominent admissions committee member.

Who wants me to attend?  The University of Maine, Babson College and St. Lawrence University.

Yet AJ and I did not contact any of these schools.

So why are they courting me?

It’s a case of list-taken identity.

At the bottom of each email I have received is this statement in fine print:

I received your e-mail address from the College Bound Selection Service. If you no longer wish to receive e-mail from [insert school name here], please let me know.

The College Bound Selection Service is run by ASL marketing which claims that their email address list is 100% opt in.  I have no recollection of opting in, but I am sure they got my name from some online educational encounter AJ and I have been involved in.  Then they confused me with the real college prospect in our family.

And the three schools above took them on their word.  Nobody double-checked the list.

None of these schools did their homework.

It’s been amusing to receive these emails.  But it’s not nearly as funny as the offer my husband Dan has received.

Over the past month, the IWLA has been chasing Dan to join, saying that his 2015 membership has been approved. 

The IWLA is the International Women’s Leadership Association.

To what does Dan owe this honor?  I don’t know.  I do know that Dan has self-identified as a man all of his life.

When I received the same IWLA membership offer, I dismissed it as spam.  How discerning could this women’s organization be if they want my husband to join?

That may not have come out quite right.

While email list misfires can be amusing, they do real damage to the brands that send them. 

Look at it from your potential customer’s point of view.  If your email mistakes their identity, your first communication with them shows that you don’t know who they are and wastes their time.  It’s a black mark on their impression of your brand.

Worse yet, you paid for their contact information and for the effort to send the email. It’s negative marketing ROI.

The practice of buying a list isn’t bad in itself.  But to protect your brand you need to verify the list for accuracy and quality of prospects.

Direct marketing is a powerful marketing tool when it’s done right. Here are some list management tips to help you get it right:

  • Build your own list. This is the best way to ensure a high quality list of target audience members.  Start with your existing customers and prospects.
  • Grow your list organically. Collect email addresses from interested visitors to your website and from inquiries to your company.  Offer an enticement of some value in exchange – a how-to guide, a helpful e-book, an insightful e-newsletter or other desirable freebie.
  • Mine trade shows and their attendance lists. Identify prospects in advance and use the show to make an initial contact.  Again, offer something of value in exchange for their opting in to your list.
  • Don’t automatically put trade show attendees or anyone else you encounter on your list. That’s spammy behavior.
  • Treat your list with respect.
    • Keep email frequency reasonable.
    • Send helpful tips or other valuable insights. If offers are all you send, prospects are more likely to unsubscribe.
    • Don’t share or sell your list. Done well, your list is a major competitive advantage.  No short term benefit can come close to the long-term benefits of respecting privacy and building a unique relationship with your audience.
  • If you must buy a list, verify the prospects before emailing. Buy from a reputable source and know what you are getting before you pay.  Take the time to verify that prospects qualify for your target audience. Often this takes just minutes thanks to social media and the internet.

Take care of your list and it will take care of your brand.

I’ve unsubscribed from the three schools’ email lists but who knows what will happen when I start the college process with my daughter next year!

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