Although email marketing is clouded by the specter of spam, companies and organizations who conduct email marketing campaigns both legally and ethically can still effectively utilize a method of online advertising and marketing delivery that is both inexpensive and efficient.
I Hate Receiving Spam! Why Would I Want to “Spam” My Customers?
There are few methods of marketing, both online and offline, that have been as attacked and maligned by users as email marketing, simply because few platforms have been as consistently abused and damaged by unethical and criminal parties as email.
History Of Email
Email as we know it today was first sent over ARPANET, an early precursor to the Internet, in 1971. ARPANET was originally funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and was designed for universities and research labs participating in defense projects to quickly share information and messages. Due to the nature of the individuals and groups participating in the system, the original email standards and protocols were not initially designed to protect both users and networks from abuse and maliciousness.
Spam A Lot
The open nature of these standards and protocols were carried over to the Internet and early email marketers began easily abusing these systems and sending unsolicited and/or commercial messages to email users en masse, which later came to be known as “spam” after a sketch by the British comedy group Monty Python. Due to the lucrative nature of spamming, the number of spammers began growing rapidly and billions of spam emails began overtaking email systems and the Internet as a whole. In 2003, the federal government passed the CAN-SPAM Act, which implemented national standards for sending commercial email and criminalized many aspects of email spamming.
Spamming continues to this day, and spam emails regularly subject victims to malware and viruses, fraudulent products and services and even criminal extortion. In addition, many spammers have moved beyond email and have begun spamming social media networks and mobile phone users through spam texts.
Effective Email Marketing
With such a sad and sordid history, email marketing may at first glance appear to be a lost cause – a form of online advertising that is more trouble than it is worth. However, many legitimate businesses and organizations still conduct effective email marketing campaigns and many email users do want to receive legitimate marketing emails. By first understanding what differentiates legitimate email marketing from spamming, you can learn how to create a legitimate email marketing campaign and regularly communicate with your customers and potential customers in a manner that is both inexpensive and efficient.
So How Is Spam Defined, And How Do I Ensure I Am Not Spamming My Customers?
Email spam is technically broken down into two groups – Unsolicited Bulk Email (UBE) and Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE). Although these two types of spam are defined separately, most email spam is a combination of both types.
Unsolicited Bulk Email
UBE is defined as sending an unsolicited email message to a group of recipients. This type of spam can be either commercial or non-commercial, but it is defined by the fact that the message was sent to a group of recipients rather than an individual recipient. For example, if a store were to send an unsolicited email to a group of recipients advertising a sale, it is UBE spam. If a religious group sends an unsolicited email to a group of recipients attempting to proselytize, it is also UBE spam. If an individual were to send an unsolicited email to a group of recipients seeking assistance in finding a lost dog, it is still considered UBE spam.
Sent En Masse
The overriding factor that defines UBE spam is the fact that the email was sent en masse to a group of recipients without their permission, regardless of the nature or the content of the email. However, if the religious group or the dog owner were to contact each recipient individually, it would not be considered spam even if it the email was unsolicited and the recipient was annoyed or inconvenienced. However, the store would still be sending spam, even if the email was sent to one individual email user. This hypothetical email would instead be considered UCE spam.
Unsolicited Commercial Email
UCE spam is defined as any unsolicited email that is commercial in nature, regardless of the number of recipients. Both internet etiquette guidelines (known as netiquette) and laws and statues state that email users and the owners and administrators of the email system have the right to not receive unsolicited commercial emails, even if the sender takes the time to contact each user individually; any and all commercial email solicitations must be previously authorized by the user.
Now that you understand exactly how spam is defined, it is much easier to design an email marketing campaign that is both legal and ethical.
Ethical Email Marketing
First, you must collect email addresses from customers and potential customers in a manner that is both voluntary and transparent. Never collect email addresses for marketing purposes under false pretenses, such as sending appointment reminders or replying to customer inquiries. If you want to utilize email addresses for multiple purposes, clearly state that the email address may be used in such a manner and give the customer or potential customer an option to “opt-out” of your marketing emails. If you collect contact information through the use of a raffle drawing or other contest, the same language and opt-out option should be provided. Also, make sure that all marketing emails include a link for recipients to opt-out of future emails. Your marketing emails must be solicited by each recipient.
Clearly Label Your Marketing Messages
Next, it is important to make sure that your marketing emails are clearly labeled as such and your email correctly conforms to standard email protocols and a standard format. Many criminal spammers like to purposefully obfuscate the source of the spam email through falsifying components of the email such as the originating email address and domain, the reply-to email address and certain fields of the email such as the subject line and first block of content. All of these efforts are aimed at countering and overriding anti-spam technologies such as domain blacklists and automated filters. It is important to clearly note that the email is coming from either your company or organization’s domain or from the domain of a legitimate email marketing company, such as Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, and that all addresses, domains, subject lines and other identifiers in the email are both correct and legitimate.
Finally, it is important that the content of your email is clearly identifies the email as marketing material and that all links, images, and attached media are legitimate. Never misidentify a link contained in your marketing email or try to “trick” a recipient into clicking on a link or opening an email attachment under false pretenses. Never utilized advanced web technologies in an attempt to disguise your content or hide links and other media. While these practices may not be included in the standard definition of email spam, users can still report your emails as being “abusive” and your domain may be blocked from sending future messages.
Honesty And Transparency
These three components of a legitimate email marketing campaign share two vital characteristics – honesty and transparency. By conducting your email marketing campaign in a manner that promotes honesty and transparency, you can ensure that you are conducting your campaign legally, ethically, and responsibly.