Commentary

Search For Excellence; Learn From Failures

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Marketers don't often talk about failing to achieve the return on investment for online search marketing campaigns, as the technology supporting the medium continues to become more complicated. The fact is that technology and technologists building the platforms are less than perfect. Not just technology supporting search marketing -- but display, retargeting, behavioral, location-based mobile and more. And we can't forget the most basic tool -- email. Here's a personal experience I've been holding close to the vest, as I decide whether or not to share it.

Simply put, marketers may strive for perfection, but after a decade or more of use, even the most rudimentary technology email still requires technologists to work out the kinks. Take the name Laurie Sullivan, for example. It's pretty common. As a matter of fact, a search on google.com turns up Laurie Sullivan the lawyer, the clinical social worker, the Bank of America equity loan officer, and the Battle Creek city commissioner in Michigan.

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Google, however, doesn't serve up information on the two Laurie Sullivans I've come to know during the past few years as a result of email glitches: the wife of a high-ranking U.S. government official (something I learned after calling one of her friends who put their phone number in the email); and the Nestle Waters employee who lives in Texas. In fact, I've been following the lives of several Laurie Sullivans through emails I have received for about three years.

Privacy advocates and government officials concerned with data leaks and personally identifiable information should turn their attention to email. I've tried to stop the flow of misdirected emails. Some addressees include their phone number, so I call them asking that they please relay the message to the correct Laurie Sullivan. Since these emails come to me through Laurie Sullivan's friends, family and business associates, I know where they dine, the number of children they have, their vacation destinations and family outings, and their business transactions.

This morning I received a confirmation email from DHL. According to the email, I work at Nestle Waters and printed a shipping label for a package sent to Metro Richelieu. I know the specific recipient, but I won't name her. Luckily, DHL provided me with a phone number to call Laurie Sullivan. I naturally assumed she had an email address similar to mine and someone mistyped the information into the "please include your email so we can send a receipt" box. Not the case. Her email is totally different -- except that she spells her name the same way.

In the case of the wife of the high-ranking U.S. government official: yes, I believe her email is similar to mine, and somehow either she keeps giving out the incorrect address or Google Gmail continues to route emails intended for her to me. Ladies, please -- you all lead fascinating lives, but I'm sure you want to keep the personal information among family and friends.

The message of this story: the complexity of online ad-serving and targeting will continue to improve in time. Nothing is perfect. So, marketers -- relax, enjoy and learn from mishaps and mistakes. Don't think of them as failures, but rather a learning experience to improve on.

1 comment about "Search For Excellence; Learn From Failures ".
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  1. Chris Nielsen from Domain Incubation, May 16, 2011 at 11:49 p.m.

    I thought this article was going to be about some email marketing mistake gone wrong, as one large cereal food manufacture had here in the midwest. The agency I worked for at the time got involved doing an promo email which consisted of about 750k emails from old contact lists and 250k from a purchased list that turned out to NOT be opt-in. Using the purchased spam list was bad enough, but the older lists were so old that few could remember opting in, and the waste material hit the fan with complaints and unsubscribe requests. On top of that I think there were 100-200k bounced messages from old aol and prodigy addresses.

    While your story is maybe less stressful or job-threatening, it's still a bother. What I don't understand is how you can get so many misdirected emails when your email address (domain name) is so different. Are people finding yours and assuming it is the other person, or is Gmail doing what they do with search and employing "broad match" and "session match" when routing email? Clearly your results are the same as it is with search: Mostly head-scratching results if not downright boneheaded wrongness and errors.

    If you want to have some fun with the senders of these emails not intended for you, just reply as if an error was detected:
    ========================================
    Subject: Mail delivery failed: returning message to sender

    Message: Mail delivery failed: returning message to sender.
    This message was created automatically by mail delivery software.

    A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed:

    webmaster@gmail.com
    SMTP error from remote mail server after RCPT TO:<LaurieSullivan@gmail.com>:
    host spamtitan.gmail.com [98.191.149.35]:
    554 5.7.1 <LaurieSullivan@gmail.com>: Your email has been blocked for your protection - user is not who you think they are - access denied

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