The reading level for this article is Novice

The proliferation of abusive email marketing has dramatically changed the landscape for anyone with an email address. Legitimate marketers now not only have to work harder to obtain a positive response for a campaign, but they also have to avoid a negative response. And all this while trying to avoid getting filtered right out of the in box before recipients even see your message! This article asks you seven questions you need to answer in order to get your message across in this new era of email marketing.

Who Are You People?
Make sure you have permission to communicate with every person on your lists. Many spam emails are now claiming “you signed up for the XYZ list” when in reality there is no existing relationship. If someone has indeed opted-in to your list, make sure they understand when and where this took place. If their relationship is with a third-party that you are partnered with, make sure to spell that out instead. You may well be better off with a partner sending on your behalf, so as to avoid any confusion about exactly why the recipient is being emailed.

Are You Still Talking To Me?
Make sure you get recipients off of your lists immediately after they request it. Once someone has made the request to no longer receive your email marketing materials, the very next email they receive is extremely likely to be perceived as spam. Remember, don’t take it personally when someone opts-out. Just because they no longer wish to get emails from you, doesn’t automatically mean they no longer wish to be a customer or prospect. However, not respecting the removal request, or not removing them quickly enough, will result in a strong negative impression that may never be overcome.

Why Are You Pestering Me?
Don’t communicate with recipients too often. An email that is welcomed on a monthly basis may become unwelcome when sent more frequently. The key to not “overstaying your welcome” is twofold: first of all, do not communicate more often then you have something of value to say (see the next section for more on this). Secondly, tell the recipient in advance how often you will be sending to them, and stick to it. If you have offered a monthly newsletter, sending every week can quickly go from informative to annoying.

Is This Something That Matters To Me?
Each communication needs to be perceived by recipients as highly relevant. Any email that fails to inform, entertain, or otherwise provide something of value to the recipient, will invariably be put into the spam category. This is representative of a larger trend, as more and more people are exposed to ever increasing numbers of marketing offers in every form of media on a daily basis. The trade off for most people is whether the time spent viewing the offer is worth it. An example from offline marketing is the practice of putting TV-style commercials before the previews in a movie theater. The vast majority of moviegoers like movie previews (directly relevant to anyone who may go see another film), but hate these new commercials (do we really have to pay to watch commercials at theaters?). Consider this parallel carefully when crafting your email marketing messages.

Are You Using The “F-Word”?
Many words that have been traditionally effective at getting a marketing response, in particular “free”, have now become words that trigger automatic spam filters instead. Getting a legitimate message through the gauntlet may seem somewhat of a mysterious process. However, the solution for marketers is clear: use pre-send filtering software to evaluate your mailings BEFORE sending, instead of waiting to see what happens. Often a small change of wording can dramatically improve the odds of your message reaching its destination, instead of disappearing on route.

Are You Selling Me Out?
Don’t sell or rent out your lists, unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences. Your house list of prospects and customers may well be the single most valuable asset you have in your business. Just like each time a celebrity endorses a product, they lose a little bit of credibility, so you use up your ability to influence your recipients each time they perceive that their information is being given out to others without their direct permission. Even if you legally have the right to do so (via an agreement that says so, like many financial institutions have, for example), it doesn’t change the fact that each time this happens, you are losing some of your power. If you are compelled to allow a third-party to solicit your list, you are far better off sending the offer on behalf of your partner, rather than providing the list to them directly.

Why Are You Even Talking To Me?
Never send to recipients who are on “global” opt-out lists like the Direct Marketing Association’s e-MPS list. The vast majority of these individuals, who have already taken the time to request that no email marketing be sent to them ever, are simply not good candidates for your offer. Reaching out to them through a different media may achieve a positive response. Or perhaps that person is simply not actually a potential customer. Marketing gurus such as Seth Godin with his “Permission Marketing” concepts tell us we should spend our marketing time and budget talking only to those people that want to be communicated with. Believe it!

Once you’ve crossed the line with a recipient, there is usually no going back. The same ability of email marketing to directly reach recipients, can inadvertently offend them. Like the difference between using a chainsaw to cut up a fallen tree versus accidentally severing your own limb, email marketing requires both care and knowledge to use correctly. Make sure you stay on the correct side of the line, and you can put that power to work to improve your bottom line results.

This Web Marketing article was written by Ron Evans on 2/14/2005