Aug 1, 2008

How Tradeshow Email Lists Can Get You Blacklisted

I run the abuse desk at MailChimp. I can’t tell you how many accounts I’ve had to shut down because of improper use of a tradeshow email list. Seriously, "tradeshow list" is a boilerplate message that I’ve setup in my email program now. The sad part is that tradeshows are supposed to be a great networking opportunity. But too many newbie email marketers mess it up. Here are some tips for dealing with tradeshow lists:

  • If you operate a booth at a tradeshow, and you collect business cards from people who visit the booth, send them a personal, one-to-one email ASAP! (use your Crackberry or laptop) with whatever sales pitch you want to give them, and provide a link to your email subscriber form, so you can stay in regular contact. Actually, don’t just give them a link to your email signup form. You know they won’t subscribe (what’s in it for them?). Give them a link to a landing page on your website with a valuable whitepaper, which also contains a link to "receive our newsletter, which contains even more valuable research." Even better, insert full page advertisements in your whitepaper, that point back to your newsletter signup form.
  • Keep those contacts, but categorize them appropriately. A "lead" that you met at a tradeshow is someone you can keep in your CRM to contact some day ("Hi Bob, we met at the Acme Widgets Show back in ’05. If you’ve still got a need for enterprise Acme monitoring services, our company just introduced…"). But that "lead" is NOT someone you can add to a big marketing mailing list. If they receive mass email from you out of the blue, they’ll report you for spamming.
  • If you operate a tradeshow booth, and the tradeshow host offers to give you an email list of all attendees, that is NOT a list that you can import into your mass marketing list. At best, you can only send them personal, one-to-one messages before the event (from your own email program, not en masse from an email marketing service), inviting them to your booth. Yes, that’s a royal pain in the you-know-what. Which is why the tradeshow organizer should be doing this emailing for you (because recipients will more likely recognize them than you).
  • On rare occasions, we’ve seen tradeshow organizers include opt-in checkboxes, where attendees can request emails from exhibitors at the show. If you can confirm this, then the list may be okay to send a mass email to. But you have to do it soon, and it should be in the context of the tradeshow. Your subject line and intro paragraph of the email should be something like, "See you at the Acme Tradeshow" If you just add this "opt-in list" to your general marketing list, and these attendees get your Quarterly Newsletter out of the blue, they’ll have no idea who you are, or that you got their email from the tradeshow. They’ll report you for spamming.
  • If you collect email addresses while exhibiting at a tradeshow, consider keeping that as a separate list, or flagging them in your master database as "From Acme Show 2008" or something. That way, you can see who came from where, and isolate any email delivery problems by "source of list" if you need to. I’ve seen cases of responsible email marketers with huge, clean lists, that randomly decide to import a list of people their sales team met at a tradeshow. Those tradeshow attendees forget who you are, or receive an email they don’t think is relevant, and report the company for spamming. If they can’t delete all those tradeshow attendees from their list, their entire list is basically tainted.
  • Fish bowls are a bad, bad idea. For adding emails to your list, that is. If you’re collecting business cards in a fishbowl at your booth (such as for a prize drawing), you can’t just subscribe all the email addresses from those cards to your email marketing list. You can crack-berry those people and ask them if they want to subscribe for email marketing (see the first tip above for specifics). Or, if your fish bowl has a giant sign on it that says, "Enter to win a prize, AND subscribe for email marketing" then you’re probably okay. Just make sure you send your first email marketing campaign to these people soon after the event, and be sure to refer to the tradeshow in that first email to them ("Hi Jane, thanks for visiting our booth at the Acme Tradeshow…").