by Bob Walters | March 01, 2005

Not long ago, suppliers could buy a list of e-mail addresses, put together an HTML marketing piece and hawk their products and services quickly and  inexpensively to a targeted audience. That’s changed with the advent of spam filters.
    For associations, members’ e-mail addresses are considered gold. Many suppliers join associations primarily to gain access to those valuable lists. But overuse has created a backlash. Members receive too many e-mail messages, and addresses often are used improperly. As a result, it has become harder for suppliers to use that handy method of marketing.
    For many organizations, the dilemma is how to attract supplier members while protecting their core members. Just how much contact information should associations make available in order to keep the suppliers happy?

Password Protected
Most association websites have a members-only area that requires a log-in ID and password. Once there, members interact with others in chat rooms or exchange dialogue on listservs.
    Concerning the names and addresses in the database, the best practice for associations now is to ensure even members are not permitted to search for other members or view names and contact information online. Most organizations have placed themselves in the middle as a buffer suppliers who want to reach the broad membership will need to work with the membership marketing group at the organization.
    Many associations still sell  mailing lists just physical addresses on labels or electronically for one-time use, as long as the suppliers submit a sample of what they are planning to send. A growing number of organizations will not provide e-mail addresses.

Marketing Options
Associations that want to appease supplier members can offer some choices. For suppliers who want to market to the membership or audience via e-mail, require that they pay for a preferred or recognized supplier logo and link on the website, ask them to sponsor an online newsletter with the associated credit and links, or take the text of the supplier’s marketing message in both plain text and HTML formats and send it out from the association.

For the Supplier
Given the above options, how do suppliers get the most for their money?
    First, make sure your website has the capability to track who visits. Set up a welcome page for the specific mailing, so anyone who clicks on the link will be tracked. It’s easy to set up separate pages for each marketing effort, enabling you to gauge the effectiveness of both your programs and the organization’s membership list. 
    If you don’t have tracking capabilities, then have visitors fill out a brief profile qualifying them for a drawing before they enter the site. Keep this short and sweet most of us hate filling in forms.  Remember, the goal is to capture who the visitors are. Now that you have their information, the next marketing effort can be more focused.
    Make the visitors feel at home. Take them directly to the area that is of most interest to them, not just your start-up or home page; the goal is to get them to the relevant information quickly.
    Once you have their information, it is yours and you can market as often as you like. But bear in mind, spam filters can quickly trap your marketing message if you overuse the list you compiled. Make sure your marketing efforts have value for the recipients and are not just a means of keeping your name in front of them.
    One final rule: Never sell or provide names to another supplier. If you do, you will violate the trust and confidence of everyone on the list.

Bob Walters, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is founder of Phoenix Solutions and developer of MeetingTrak Software.