Marketers Feel Slammed by Spam

My last column, Oh! You Do Spam, seems to have struck a nerve out there. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in my concern about the email marketing industry.

“If we do not police ourselves, we will end up exactly like the telemarketing industry… I sure hope you get lots of responses from people like myself who say, ’enough is enough,’” said Beverley Burklow of Southwest Affinity.

I did, Beverley, I did! Including one from Greg Sheffield of IQ Direct Marketing Solutions, who said he “heartily concur[s” with the notion the industry [is” self-destructing.” Keith Thirgood of Capstone Communications Group feels unsolicited messaging may “destroy email as a medium of communication.” Sandra Miller of ACS Communications added: “Associations and the government are not moving quickly enough.”

As a fierce opt-in advocate, I’ve fought corporate battles over email. I’m not alone. Frederick Faulkner wrote he’s “fighting for opt-in… slowly I am making people understand this is important.”

Another example of defending opt-in to the bitter end: Rob Morrow at 1Wizards.Net wrote, “Whenever a potential or existing client wants to travel down the opt-out or outright spam road, I spend a lot of time explaining my position as to why I think it’s the wrong way to go. I have even refused to do work if I can’t change their minds!”

Michelle Stute from OCjobSite.com added, “Spam is bad PR, and any business that cares about its image and its product will shun it.” I second that, Michelle. Not only is it bad PR, but Nancy Beckman from Marketing Works! Inc. pointed out: “’Spam laws’ are one thing, ’best practices’ are another… The toughest part is advising clients what to do and the possible repercussions of their choices.”

Sending unsolicited email is bad business if your goal is to get your email opened and read. Studies show unsolicited email has lower open and click-through rates than opt-in email (more on that in a future column).

Those who disregard spam regulations and best practices create real headaches for those who are following guidelines. I had a client whose opt-in email newsletters were filtered and blocked by AOL, because AOL interpreted them as spam. Margaret Agard of Agards.com highlighted some problems unsolicited emails caused her: “Problems above and beyond just getting unsolicited emails… I suspect of 100 emails sent, about 50 are blocked or filtered to a ’mass mailing’ file by the ISPs and another 25 or so are discarded without being read, leaving only about 25 percent of emails sent to reach the target audience.”

Monique Bell of Silver on the Web Inc. experienced a bigger problem when “we recently instituted an email marketing campaign to our previous clients… we were reported as spam… It has our marketing department terrified to do anything for fear of being labeled a ’spammer.’”

Many people wrote about “negative option opt-out” (as long as the email contains an unsubscribe link it should be considered legal, regardless of whether the recipient gave permission to be contacted via email). Margaret Thornberry of Linkville.com said, “Those links allow the spammer to harvest the address as having a real, live person attached and resell it. I never click unsubscribe for that reason.”

And from A. Alan Cates of Dolphin Ad Design, “The result is a knowledgeable user will never click [on an unsubscribe link” unless they know the company and trust them. This means the stats for [negative option” opt-out will show a low ’remove me from your list’ response rate.” A low unsubscribe rate is not a valid argument for negative option opt-out; many who received your message may not (a) unsubscribe for fear of getting even more unsolicited email or (b) have even opened your email at all (have you seen the latest statistics on how many people delete email from unknown sources without opening it? Staggering).

Which leads me into another area. I got a lot of good comments from readers outside the U.S. Francesco Fabbri of eMailers.it hasn’t had to lobby within his organization for opt-in. “It’s the only opportunity we are interested in… Opt-in will surely win the battle… I have no doubt.”

Pedro Cappelle from CAP47 let me know, “The European Commission is pushing national governments into adopting a law that makes it illegal to send opt-out emails… We have a saying that applies to email marketing: ’If you’re polite, you might.’” Jan MacDonald added, “EC, NZ, Australia all have strong opt-in only laws (enforceable with hefty fines and set at a federal or even bloc level, not by individual states)… If the U.S. doesn’t get into step… they’ll kill email marketing… maybe it’ll be that no one in Europe will bother with U.S.-based emails.”

Koji Tsurumoto, a columnist in Tokyo, suggested further refining email terms. Among his suggestions, which I support whole-heartedly, are:

  • Pre-opt-out: Prechecked registration box.

  • Post-opt-out: Unsolicited email that includes an unsubscribe mechanism.
  • Dedicated opt-in: Messages sent only from the company that received the permission, and only about their products (no third-party messages, no list rental permission).
  • Shared opt-in: Messages sent from the company that received the permission and from their advertisers (third parties). Basically, permission to rent the email address to others.

This is in line with a comment from Steve Czetli of TechyVent, “Opt-in/opt-out is just too simplistic.” I agree. The way the terms are twisted, we need to have common definitions that won’t mislead anyone.

Reinforce the idea of quality versus quantity when it comes to email marketing. Scott Stratten of WorkYourLife.com said it best: “Gaining 10 email addresses of people who have heard of me and have asked for more information and to stay in touch… is much more valuable than blasting out 10,000 emails, hoping for a 0.005 percent return of interest, and ticking off 99 percent of the people on the receiving end.” Ah, Scott, from your mouth to the ears of email marketers, industry associations, and government officials everywhere…


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