Email Acquisition Tactics - Fair Game or Dirty Business?

  |  November 15, 2012   |  Comments

Shouldn't we generally have the practice of not opting people into a database at all without some kind of permission?

Nothing gets the email marketing crowd going like the topic of adding people to brands' email lists without their permission. Rightly so, as the most significant strength of email marketing is that permission is provided by the subscriber to the brand to send them advertising! It's also what makes it wildly successful as a marketing medium. What it loses in reach, it makes up for it in targeting and measurability when compared to its brethren.

Many marketers think a name is a name and a list should be bigger than smaller. Other folks say if you have some kind of interaction with someone in some form (I know, intentionally vague), sending them email communications is fair game. In the B2B world this can be the standard. But should it be regardless of who your company is marketing to?

Let's look at a few real-life examples.

I have attended a few conferences recently and at one I apparently invited several brands into my inbox. However, that was neither the case nor my intention. In fact, I don't even remember having any kind of interaction (such as entering a contest or dropping off my business card in a fishbowl). I know many media companies that host trade shows will sell or include in a sponsorship the names of all attendees. It is somewhat tolerable to get some random emails from these brands right before or after an event, assuming they have some kind of value and/or connection to the event.

However, a few have jumped the shark and I don't condone that. A few just flat out opted me in to their email program without that kind of interaction that is considered at least somewhat in the grey area. For example, Herman Miller put me in its welcome series (or I assume so by its content). The preheader is a bossy declaration: "Look forward to receiving the latest information, incentives and inspiration for your office space." Well, thanks for asking.

If a brand was going to employ this tactic, at the very least it should include some kind of explanation such as, "You are receiving this email as part of your ___ Conference benefits and we hope you will find our emails valuable." Or some kind of front-and-center opt-out. Just dumping me in the database doesn't fly without an explanation, even though I can read between the lines. And this doesn't even touch on the creative for this email.

I've also noticed a trend with some especially crafty people using LinkedIn as an email database facilitator. After connecting with some new connections, I have found I end up on their email list. It seems to be mostly small sole proprietor-types vs. marketing managers at Fortune 500 companies. Nevertheless, I didn't give them permission to email me about their company when we "connected" via LinkedIn.

What do consumers think of this practice in general? Considering that BlueHornet and Forrester found that 75 percent of consumers did not think it was acceptable to receive emails after they actually bought something from a company, I can go out on a limb and think that number would be even higher if the question was, "Is it OK for a company to contact you, that you may or may not know and don't have a specific business relationship with?"


But B2B rules are different, or so many will cry. But should they be?

Shouldn't we generally have the practice of not opting people into a database at all without some kind of permission? Shouldn't this be the standard for any kind of email marketing? At the very least inviting them to opt in rather than just the dump and send? What do you think? I would love for some examples (even anonymous) where businesses used this tactic and it worked and didn't backfire (or at least to their knowledge).

Angry at Email image on home page via Shutterstock.



Simms Jenkins

Simms Jenkins is CEO of BrightWave Marketing, North America's leading email marketing-focused digital agency. The award-winning firm specializes in elevating email marketing and digital messaging programs that drive revenue, cut costs, and build relationships. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a world-class client list including Affiliated Computer Service (A Xerox Company), Chick-fil-A, Cox Business, Phillips66, Porsche, and Southern Company. The agency was recently ranked among the fastest growing private companies by Inc. Magazine.

Jenkins was awarded the prestigious AMY 2010 Marketer of the Year from the American Marketing Association for being the top agency marketer and the Email Marketer of the Year at the Tech Marketing Awards held by the Technology Association of Georgia. Jenkins is regarded as one of the leading experts in the email marketing industry and is regularly cited by the media as such and called upon by the financial community to provide market insight and consulting.

Jenkins is the author of two definitive and highly regarded books on email marketing; The New Inbox (published in April 2013 by ClickZ/Incisive Media) and The Truth About Email Marketing (published by Pearson's Financial Times Press in 2008). Jenkins is currently the Email Marketing Best Practices Columnist for ClickZ, the largest resource of interactive marketing news and commentary in the world, online or off. His industry articles have been called one of the top 21 information sources for email marketers.

He has been featured in Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Adweek, Bloomberg TV, Wired Magazine, and scores of other leading publications and media outlets. Jenkins is a regular speaker at major digital industry and general business conferences.

Additionally, Jenkins is the creator of and, the leading authorities on email and social media metrics. Prior to founding BrightWave Marketing, Jenkins headed the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media.

Jenkins serves on the eMarketing Association's Board of Advisors among other civic and professional boards. He is also a mentor at Flashpoint, a Georgia Tech-based startup accelerator program. Jenkins is a graduate of Denison University in Granville, Ohio and resides in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood with his wife and three children.

Follow and connect with Simms on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, The BrightWave Blog, and his book websites at and

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