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Direct to Consumer Brand Discovery

  Online Marketing Whitepaper

Online Marketing Whitepaper


The Imperfect World of Quantifying Website Traffic

Online Advertising Lingo

Necessities for Every Company with a Website

Paid Advertising

Leveraging the True Power of the Internet

Bootstrap Marketing Online


A Dated Introduction to Online Marketing*

*Note: This is the original version of a whitepaper that was authored in 2001 by iCondotta's founder and principal consultant, Stephan Aarstol. It's a useful primer, but dated - pre-Wikipedia (2001), pre-Google AdWords PPC (2002), way pre-YouTube (2005), you get the picture...

Creating an Email Discussion Group

Email discussion groups are nothing new to the online world, however, in the Internet’s transition from primarily a non-commercial medium to today’s commercially driven medium, they seem to have gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle. The majority of traditional companies moving onto the web have largely ignored the immense and targeted marketing power of email discussion groups.

Not to be confused with on site discussion groups or message boards where users must come to a website to read or make a post on a topic of interest to them, email discussion groups leverage the push power of email to stimulate discussions. Email discussion groups are administered by fully automated software that directs email posts from any single member to everybody else in the group. Members become a part of the circulation by sending an email to a specific subscribe email address, and they can unsubscribe at any time by sending another email to a specific unsubscribe email address. Someone who has a keen interest in the topic usually moderates posts before they are distributed to the entire group to keep out the overtly commercial messages, stimulate new discussions, and to generally keep the group on topic. Most of the time, the moderator is also the owner or creator of the email discussion group.

Subscribers can usually choose between three different message delivery methods:

  1. Receive an individual email for each post by any group member
  2. Receive a single daily digest email containing all the posts for that day
  3. Don’t receive any email, but instead read the posts at a designated website

To understand the power of these discussion lists, consider the email generated by each of the above delivery methods for a modest sized group of 500 members where, on average, 5 members (1% of the membership) make a post or a reply every day. Here’s the email generated:

  1. Individual email delivery – 500 members x 5 individual emails per = 2500 emails per day or 75,000 individual emails per month. Each subscriber would
    receive 150 emails each month, or 5 per day.
  2. Daily digest – 500 members x 1 digest per day = 500 emails per day or 15,000 emails per month. Each subscribe would receive 30 emails each month.
  3. No email, read on the web – This is essentially a discussion board. The subscribers would receive no emails.

Since each subscriber makes his/her own delivery choices, the reality is that the emails generated fall someone in between example #1 and #2. If it’s a small list with 50 to 100 people on it, more subscribers will be willing to receive individual emails of each post. If the subscriber base is much larger, like say 1000 subscribers, then it becomes much more compelling for users to opt for the daily digest so they don’t get buried with email.

The marketing applications of email discussion groups are numerous. For many types of companies, an email discussion group can be a great deal more powerful than their website. If you were an avid long distance runner, track coach or some other influential in the running scene, which resource would you find more appealing?

1. The Adidas running shoes website - a nice, but typical, brochure, product catalog, and e-commerce site.


2. A running email discussion group on Yahoo! Groups called Running that is self described as “This is a list for runners, joggers, power walkers and serious distance and marathon competitors. Feel free to talk about ANYTHING pertaining to this topic. Tips, questions, and advice is welcome. also, your opinions on running accessories are encouraged!”

There’s no reason why Adidas couldn’t create their own “Adidas Running Shoes” email discussion group, or support an existing one. The only potential problem arises if Adidas were to use its moderation power to censor the posts in its favor, or blatantly use the group to bombard the participants with advertising. Email discussion group participants aren’t stupid and they can excuse themselves at any time by simply sending an email, so a company needs to be tactful if they don’t want to alienate the audience. A better option might be to have a non-biased third party moderate the group while the company acts as the sponsor and provides expert contributors as a resource for questions from the group. You lose a little control here (as if you have much anyways, nowadays), but this non-biased moderation approach adds a lot of validity and thus the group will be a lot more attractive to would be participants. The important element is that your brand is wrapped around the group and that the group establishes itself as THE email discussion group for your niche market.

So, how does a company go about starting an email discussion group? There are a number of approaches you can take:

The free approach

Set-up one up at one of the popular free email discussion list hosts like Yahoo! Groups or Topica. Yahoo! Groups has more bells and whistles.

Somewhat customized approach

If you’re looking for a more customized approach, you can find something for under a couple hundred dollars per month. A few of the many companies to consider include:

  1. BulletPass
  2. Mail-List

Non-biased plus instant popularity approach

Approach a non-biased, third party site that attracts a large number of the target audience you’re looking for and ask them to set-up and moderate the email discussion group for you. If they don’t already offer this service, they will surely consider it if the price is right. This route not only gets you a administration free email discussion group, but it also assures it will instantly attract a large following. In no time, you could have your name around the hottest email discussion group in your niche. The more useful the group is for participants, the more popular it will become, so you may want to consider soliciting, or providing, some experts to answer questions from the group.

In today’s world, a company’s brand identity is becoming more a factor of consumer interaction than a series of company choreographed broadcasts. Companies can either choose to stick their head in the sand and ignore this or try to tame the beast. Email discussion groups are a powerful means to address this changing tide.

>> Publishing an Email Newsletter

Authored in 2001 by Stephan Aarstol
while Director of Business Development