Do you want to create an email database?

I’ve been a bit naughty lately. All in the name of marketing research mind you, but still not quite kosher. I wouldn’t normally share my odd transgressions with you, but this one produced such a spectacular result that I’d be negligent if I didn’t tell you about it.

It all started many years ago when I began to ponder the benefits of e-mail as a marketing tool. I’ve been using e-mail for years now and find it brilliant — it’s cheap, fast and easy to use.

Email marketing is quite effective provided you have access to appropriate email addresses

Email marketing is quite effective provided you have access to appropriate email addresses

Email marketing is cheap and effective

You are all familiar with how it works. We can attach all kinds of useful things to e-mail letters, such as videos, photographs, artwork, etc, and can send it anywhere in the world — instantly — so many years ago I started to use  e-mail to deliver marketing material for my business. One of the things that attracted me was the fact that the recipient has the choice of viewing the document on their computer screen, deleting it or printing it out and wearing the cost themselves.

Having previously spent eye watering amounts of money producing colour printed flyers in bygone years, the thought of being able to create and distribute stunning electronic marketing material for minimal cost appealed to me immensely, but the problem remained of how to gather e-mail addresses? I started to collect them manually but soon gave up.

Old software solution

WebWeasel (now called Extractor Pro) harvests email addresses, but is now obsolete.

WebWeasel (now called Extractor Pro) harvests email addresses, but is now obsolete.

I was surfing the Internet very late one night (as I have a habit of doing — it’s more rewarding than sleeping for an insomniac like me) and discovered this little computer software company in the U.S. with an interesting product called Web Weasel (no longer available). The advertisement for this software got my full attention — it said that Web Weasel was an Internet ‘robot’ and that it could roam the Internet and gather targeted e-mail addresses for me.

Now I’m cynical, but not stupid. If this little gadget could perform half of what was claimed it could be very useful indeed. It was only US$399.

What the hell, I’m a bit of a gambler at heart, so I typed in my credit card details and downloaded the software there and then, half expecting to find myself the victim of some enterprising Yankee scam.

After installing the software my fears heightened — the program had the look and feel of amateur software and I fully expected it to lock up my computer. I read the instructions and set it to find the e-mail addresses of people concerned with the hospitality industry — then I went to bed.

Surprising result

The next morning I looked at my computer and was astounded. The little robot had blasted out around the Internet and gathered 25,000 email addresses. You little ripper! Yes! I let it run for a few hours more, feeling just a little guilty that I was probably going to get an award from Telstra for Australia’s longest continuous local phone call (it was in the days of telephone modems), but not guilty enough to turn it off. Meanwhile I read more of the instructions that came with the software.

It said to create an advertising e-mail letter and gave me quite good guidelines as to what works and what doesn’t, so I knocked-up a quick letter advertising our web site. I figured that seeing as the addresses I had gathered were from all over the world I’d better not try to sell two day training courses based in Melbourne. By the time I had finished, little ‘Robbie’ as I had warmly nick-named my new friend, had gathered 35,000 addresses. The instructions told me to use Robbie’s companion software to send out the letters and handle the replies. So I hit the button and 35,000 e-mail letters shot around the world at the speed of light. It took 10 minutes — and I was still connected to the original 25 cent local phone call.

Encouraging response

Linkedin Helper can find email addresses from narrowly defined searches

Linkedin Helper can find email addresses from narrowly defined searches

The next day I turned on my computer to find I had 726 e-mail responses. The software automatically read them and deleted the ones with obscenities in them and requests to remove their addresses from my mail lists. I was left with 92 genuine responses which I read with glee. The hit rate on my web site went through the roof over the next week. 2,500 people from 23 countries visited my web site in one day alone.

I tried to reconcile this in my own mind. To send out 10,000 letters to hospitality business listed in the liquor Licensing database (gained under a Freedom of Information request) in Victoria cost me $6,500, but to send out 35,000 e-mails all over the world only cost me a 25 cent phone call and around $20 in Internet connection fees. No wonder Australia Post is experiencing rapid decline.

Then came the bad bit. I got a nasty e-mail from my Internet service provider bluntly telling me that sending out thousands of unsolicited e-mails was called ‘spamming’. I already knew that. They added that it tied-up their big expensive mainframe computer for some time. This is akin to taking over the main telephone exchange for several hours and not letting any other calls through. I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know that my agreement with them expressly forbid me to do this. They said if I did this again they would cancel my account immediately.

Not to be thwarted I set the computer to send out 150 e-mails each night and tried it for a week. Bingo — not a peep out of the powers that be, and again a very good response. Probably the most cost effective marketing I’ve ever done.

Modern software solution

Jumping ahead, while WebWeasel is no longer available, the modern equivalent is a program called Linked Helper. This harvests information from Linkedin according to specific searches: job title, name of business, location, etc.