Email Acquisition Tactics – Fair Game or Dirty Business?

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.

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