E-mail's Dark Side

  |  December 27, 2007   |  Comments

Opting-out of opt-out e-mail.

Of late I've been reading article after article about how great things are going in the e-mail world. More sophisticated campaigns, better list management, improved metrics, amazing conferences, the industry moving forward, it seems everything is rosy. Now, at this time of cheer and goodwill to all men, I don't want to be a Grinch. Yet despite all the progress, I'm still constantly bombarded by opt-out marketing from supposedly legitimate companies, something I hoped would have ceased long ago.

Let's clarify what I mean by opt-out marketing. I don't mean companies that use unconfirmed or single opt-in. I don't mean companies that use unconfirmed opt-in with pre-checked boxes. I mean companies that purchase addresses from third parties (list brokers, industry directories, etc.) and decide it's OK to add those addresses to their mailing lists. I continue to receive this type of e-mail. Messages with wording such as, "Our marketing plan calls for us to send you these notices, if you do not wish to receive them click here." I've come across organizations whose marketing plans involve selling herbal Viagra and fake Rolexes by e-mail. Without permission, one's no more valid than the other. I continue to receive e-mail from companies I've never heard of to addresses such as derek.harding@ which I believe a list broker or directory company made up and sold (it works, but if you use it I know you're spamming).

The bottom line is just because you're CAN-SPAM compliant and aren't using a botnet (define) controlled by an organized criminal gang doesn't mean your e-mail is legitimate. If you don't have the explicit, informed consent of the recipient to send bulk e-mail, you're sending spam. No ifs or buts.

Too many marketers engage in self-denial on this subject. The rationalizations can be quite impressive. Typically, it's what you'd expect. They convince themselves they really aren't doing anything wrong, everyone's doing it, it doesn't do any harm. In the end, though, it's driven by the belief they need to use e-mail in this way to be successful. If your company can't be successful without spamming people, you need to rethink your marketing plan or your business model.

Presuming you aren't one of those companies, you may be wondering why I care and why you should care. Compared with the billions of spam messages sent daily, these are a drop in the ocean.

A recent report from MarketingSherpa indicates in 2007, 49 percent of marketers were affected by false positives; 36 percent believe inboxes are swamped; and 21 percent believe spam is eroding trust in e-mail. You should care because this behavior muddies the waters and blurs the distinction between legitimate, permission-based e-mail marketing and spam. It makes the false positive situation worse. It further overloads inboxes with more unsolicited e-mail. Finally, it makes legitimate marketers look bad when other allegedly legitimate marketers spam and erode trust.

As we enter 2008, I have a New Years resolution. It's a variation on the Boulder Pledge. I'll have nothing to do with companies that send me such unsolicited offers, whether they're sent to my actual e-mail address, our sales alias, or a made up guess of what my e-mail address might be. I'll not "just hit delete" or opt-out of their messages. Rather, I'll report them as the spam that they are.

Until next time,

Derek

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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