In the Name of Responsible Email Marketing

Perhaps we spoke too soon. No sooner had we breathed a sigh of relief, than this week’s mail hit. And though many writers sent thought-provoking situations and questions in effort to find an appropriate path to follow, a handful of respondents resorted to name calling. Oh well, tackling the realities of marketing online wasn’t supposed to be easy.

One particularly angry email called us thoughtless and autocratic, then went on to suggest that we’d “put yourselves out there as unsolicited bulk email proponents.” Ouch! If we’ve ever given any hint that we were avid proponents of unsolicited email, bulk or not, we apologize. We are not fans of junk mail, in paper or electronic form. Nor did we ever intend to be autocratic. We specifically said that there were no simple answers, and each of us would need to judge appropriateness for ourselves.

An ISP employee wrote, “If one of our customers is found to have sent out bulk unsolicited email, we close the account.” Good point, you need to consider how your suppliers will react. But how, we ask, does the ISP determine what size is bulk? We received an email today that went to a very long list of recipients – one for which we had not opted-in. It was a thank-you note to everyone who had helped hold a charity event. Not spam in our book, but maybe some ISPs would disagree…

A number of correspondents wrote that unsolicited email was more palatable if the sender offered a clear and simple way to remove oneself from the list. We completely agree that unsubscribe instructions are not only a good idea, they are a requirement of responsible email marketing! There are absolutely no exceptions that we can imagine to that rule!

What about that fuzzy area between clearly OK and clearly unacceptable? At the end of the day, every marketer will have to draw their own conclusions and accept the risk those choices bring. But to help each of us determine where we fall on that spectrum of choice, we’re going to share some questions that our loyal readers have been writing in to us. Names are withheld to protect the innocent.

From a ClickZ reader in the land of a thousand lakes, we got this question:

    “I understand the ethical dilemma that faces marketers. As a consulting firm, we have generated a very specific list of client names, both current and past. I have been pushing and pushing that we do some sort of targeted email-based marketing program here. I was shocked to find that the firm still uses broadcast fax. Anyway, how do I bridge that gap between sending out an unsolicited email asking for permission and sending spam? It is sort of the chicken or the egg thing, isn’t it? What comes first, the permission? You can’t get the permission until you send the email asking for the permission. What’s a fella to do?”

What do you all think? We have our opinions (of course), but we want to hear first from our readers. We’ll compile the responses and let you all know the consensus.

This email topic has exceeded our own email volumes beyond an amount we could hope to answer personally. Yet, we do read them all, and will consolidate any useful responses to let everyone know how the voting public rules. Send your thoughts on creative marketing solutions to, and we’ll keep tabs on the advice our northern friend is offered.

Related reading