The Fine Line between Email Marketing and Spam


Twenty-six. That’s the number of emails that have magically popped into my “Junk Mail” folder since I left the office last night at 6:00 p.m. These are the ones that made it past our first layer of protection. I’m sure that for some of you, this number is even larger—and more aggravating. Here’s another reality check: from January 2011 to July 2011, Strategic America received 2,866,544 emails. Only 409,974 of those emails were classified as “clean,” meaning that they were actually ones we wanted to receive. Eighty-six percent of the email we received as a company was spam. That, my friends, is outrageous.

According to Ferris Research, spam cost businesses $130 billion in 2009, with $45 billion in the United States alone! The costs incurred to businesses include the user productivity cost, IT staff time and the costs from anti-spam and anti-virus software. Businesses are spending thousands of dollars each year trying to block, reduce and eliminate these unwanted emails.

So, what’s the irony in all of this? Strategic America actively encourages and participates in email marketing campaigns.

To some, spam and email marketing are synonymous—both are unwanted and unsolicited. And, given the choice, we would permanently eradicate both from our already overstuffed inboxes. However, if approached and executed correctly, email marketing is clearly distinct from spam. What, exactly, is that distinction? We believe that the difference is not just tactical, but philosophical as well. Strategic America’s philosophy regarding email marketing is that we want to provide our clients with the best, most targeted, most effective content possible that results in increased revenue—without sacrificing integrity or bombarding customers with unwanted information.

Companies that engage in email marketing must make a conscious commitment to gain customers’ loyalty and trust. Tom Irvine states that “this sense of security and trust is one that will deepen your relationship and create a more lasting bond. Loyal customers are the best type of customers to have, they are easier to market to, they make repeat purchases and they recommend you to others.” (source)

Four key factors that differentiate email marketing from spam are:

  • Transparency and clear messaging—Be open about what you are trying to do. Indicate what you plan to send, how often you plan to send it, where customers can unsubscribe if desired, and so forth. Customers appreciate when information is provided up front and without deception.
  • Double opt-in as standard practice—With double opt-in, once a new subscriber initially opts in, they receive a confirmation email. After they receive that email, that individual must either reply to it or click on a link directing them to another website. There they confirm their interest or select which offers they’d like to receive or what topics are of interest to them. This active response ensures that the customer is aware of what they are signing up for and reduces the chance of undesired emails.
  • Relevant content—Customers in the floral industry likely won’t be interested in receiving messages about HVAC technology or cloud computing. Be sure to accurately target your demographics prior to sending out large-scale emails.
  • Provide options—Allow customers to choose the subject matter of the emails they would like to receive. Giving people options ensures that you can effectively market without spam.

Let your customers guide what you provide. In doing so, you’ll ensure that your email doesn’t become one of the 2,456,570 that were immediately gobbled up by a spam filter.


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