E-mail's Moment of Clarity

Despite pitches from dozens of technology vendors every month, I rarely talk about individual products or services in this column. Mainly, I avoid product reviews because I'm supposed to be writing an opinion column. But every once in a while, something comes along that knocks my socks off and makes me feel like my readers should know about it ASAP.

Just such a product is Emerging Interest's CETS (Competitive E-mail Tracking System). What makes me want to write about this breakthrough product is that I think it has the potential to revolutionize how we, as media planners, think about e-mail.

Before I get into why I think this product is revolutionary, let me state for the record that my opinion of standalone e-mails to rented lists hasn't changed. I think standalone e-mails don't make a lot of sense and can do damage to brands, thanks to the enormity of the spam problem. However, I do think that newsletter and other content sponsorships are a lot more valuable than standalone e-mailings, and probably represent a better use of the channel.



Regardless of how an advertiser uses e-mail, the process of putting together a strategic plan for e-mail would be a lot easier if media planners could get some information about what a client's competitors are doing with e-mail, right? This is exactly what CETS brings to the table. For years, we've planned e-mail in a vacuum, with our only competitive intelligence gleaned from what we're able to gather by signing up for newsletters and lists ourselves. If you were lucky, your fellow agency folk were looking out for you by forwarding competitive e-mails they might have received at the office or at home. Pathetic. Just pathetic.

CETS from Emerging Interest can give us a much better picture of what competitors might be doing in the e-mail channel. It has seeded a number of e-mail lists with names generated dynamically by the CETS system. These names correspond to fictitious individuals that each have their own demographic and psychographic profiles. (By having this in place, CETS subscribers will be able to tell whether a specific e-mailing is targeted to a specific demographic or "select.") As CETS receives e-mail, it is building a robust database of mailings that can be searched in a number of different ways, including by brand and by demographic profile.

Sure, the methodology isn't perfect. Like the competitive web advertising products, it misses stuff. (A spot test against one of Underscore's client initiatives picked up a good number of e-mailings, but not the complete campaign.) But that's not the point. The point is that we now have something that can give us a bit of direction in the e-mail space.

You can see the creative. You can see which of the CETS profiles it was mailed to and when. A partnership with Hitwise allows CETS to map the campaign information it tracks to site traffic data, so planners can get a picture of how e-mail affects presence on a client's website. This is all stuff we've never had before.

An added benefit of the CETS system is that it picks up on spam and sheds some light on which disingenuous e-mail companies are swapping or selling names behind the scenes. See Joe's article from last week to see how CETS was able to pick up on an e-mail marketing outfit that was careless with its lists, which resulted in a CETS address getting porn spam. Maybe this tool could provide the impetus for less scrupulous e-mail marketers to get their act together.

If your agency provides e-mail marketing services to clients, I'd recommend that you speak to Bill McCloskey at Emerging Interest about licensing CETS. We can't continue to plan without competitive data, and CETS is the only one I know of that provides this type of information for e-mail.

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