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Rich Tehrani


[June 1, 2004]


Using Gmail to Poach Customers:

Competition Now Truly a Click Away




Gmail (news - alert) is fascinating in so many ways. There are three areas where it will revolutionize the Internet.


1) Virtually unlimited e-mail storage

2) Superior searching of archived e-mail

3) Easy customer poaching


I wrote an article recently titled “Google Gmail Vs. Hysterical Privacy Lunatics,” in response to the tremendous outpouring of suspicion regarding the way Gmail works. I wrote this without having an actual account, so you can imagine how excited I was when TMC’s own columnist Robert Hashemian forwarded me a Gmail invitation. I recently received the Gmail account rtehrani@gmail.com, which I post freely on the internet for all to see. Not only will you, my much appreciated reader see my address, but so will thousands or even millions of web scraping bots looking for e-mail addresses to spam.


Many of us in the trade press have a dilemma. We want to be accessible to our readers and others but at the same time, we need to stop ourselves from the onslaught of Viagra and mortgage spam flooding our inboxes. I have noticed other editors shielding us from learning their e-mail address. Selflessly, I throw mine out there and dare the slimy spammers to take their best shot.


I have an ulterior motive of course. I want to see how Google deals with the menace we know as spam. Spam is a very messy and nasty epidemic and to date, Google has taken these messy services and cleaned them up. Take the user interface for example: where as Yahoo’s home page is a lesson in clutter, Google takes the opposite approach. While most sites display banner and button ads, Google built its ad revenue based on text ads (although recently they decided to give banners a whirl). Finally, Google has always eschewed pop up ads in contrast to so many others. So I figure Gmail may have a better spam filter than the competition. Time (and of course, I) will only tell.


Let’s get back to Gmail. I sent ten messages from my TMCnet account to my Google free e-mail service (which by the way, allows accounts to have a gigabyte of storage). I wanted to see how it would deal with targeting ads to the content on the page. Google did remarkably well. The ads were well targeted. VoIP (news - alert) ads appeared with VoIP content, CRM (news - alert)ads (from a competitor, actually) came up when there was CRM content and so forth.


This had me thinking. Google AdWords coupled with Gmail may just be the great advertising equalizer while bringing down the walls that guard the barrier for entry. For example, let’s say you are on the New York Times e-mail list, CNN, or the New York Post. Gmail now makes it possible for any advertiser to poach other company’s readers. After all, an advertiser can target e-mail containing any words they wish. Examples include “New York Times Wall Street Report,” or “Forbes Technology Report.” Trade newsletters are not exempt so you could poach readers of the “Customer Interaction Solutions” newsletter for example. Certain terms in the CRM space can cost more than a few dollars, or even ten times as much. By targeting e-newsletters, you can reduce your cost of advertising for a more precise target audience. The theory being, that it will be relatively inexpensive to buy the keywords relating the above newsletters in comparison to keywords, such as VoIP.


If Gmail catches on, it will act as the middle-man allowing advertisers to steal subscribers from other newsletters. Lexus can steal BMW newsletter subscribers. Sports Illustrated can steal ESPN newsletter subscribers.


For years we have been saying that on the internet, your competition is only a mouse-click away. That really was a figure of speech -  until now.


Rich Tehrani is TMC's president. He welcomes your comments. Participate in our forums.


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