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Alf's Articles

Spam Winning the Battle, But Not the War

by Alf Nucifora

Not a day goes by that the press doesn't report staggering numbers on the volume increase in email spam. My personal experience reveals that the spam count is doubling every 90-180 days. However, the good news is that regulatory and technical help are on the way. The spam problem, which is now at its most acute, will lessen over time once effective safeguards are more firmly in place, most likely within the next 12-18 months. In the meantime, the advice to marketers is one of not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Permission-based email marketing remains a highly effective tool. To believe that people are not reading email anymore because of spam overload is both a false premise and a huge marketing mistake. Incidentally, the research clearly shows that email is now the number one B2B communication tool, surpassing phone and postal mail, and has been for the last three years.

Things to Keep In Mind

We will reserve a discussion of the technical issues surrounding spam control to a later column. For the time being, let's just deal with the strategic implications.

Don't Panic! Spam is now a kitchen table issue, even to the extent, no doubt, of featuring prominently in forthcoming election platforms. Whenever politicians get involved, you know the issue is hot and some attempt will be made to address it. In the meantime, as an online marketer, provide your recipients with a credible product and reassurance of your integrity and gird yourself for some volatility and push-back as consumers respond volubly to the looming out-of-control situation.

Follow the leaders: Remember that the big companies and brand name leaders are still experiencing great success with their permission-based email marketing programs. They're continuing to sell a lot of product. Rest assured that Amazon and Lands End have not been hurt. Email's intrinsic effectiveness, coupled with its enormous cost benefit in distribution, still makes it one of the most effective marketing communication tools on the planet.

It's retention, stupid! Email has migrated to being a retention tool and is no longer used by smart marketers solely for customer acquisition as in its formative days, e.g., buying lists. Email marketing's real role, nowadays, is in maintaining the communication and the relationship with the customer or buyer who opted in. The problem is, even opt-in recipients are hitting the "delete" button. As Michael Pridemore, CEO of Socketware, Inc. a provider of email software and services, notes "Spam has raised the consumer threshold. And it continues to get raised everyday."

What works? Email marketing messages must be compelling, relevant and of value to the recipient. Pridemore, whose clients include Delta Airlines, Travelocity and Ace Hardware, recommends content that communicates real value, which can take any number of forms including valuable news, a financial benefit (a deal) and/or domain knowledge in the form of product data and consolidated research information. Says Pridemore, "In the case of email newsletters, it also helps to have a 'cool' message with a catchy title or theme and feature marquee names, authors and links."

Do your homework: Remember to monitor your metrics. If you're getting more than a 20% "bad address" or "bounce-back" rate on your email list over the course of a year, you may have a problem. If your not getting at least 50% of recipients opening the email instead of deleting it, you also have a problem. But you won't be aware of the problem unless you continually review the numbers. To that point, maintain clean mailing lists. It's a constant process akin to weekly laundry.

Support the cause: Legitimate marketers must band together to fight the renegades and dregs of marketing society who are currently polluting and jamming our email boxes. Block their messages. Report them to your ISP. And, join associations that are fighting the problem, including AIM, NAI and JamSpam.

When it's all said and done, spam will not and cannot be the death of email. Living without email would incur the same pain as losing your copy machine or computer. The technology is firmly rooted in our daily experience. Spam, like annoying telephone solicitor calls at dinner time, will eventually be blocked. In the meantime, continue with your email marketing efforts but ask yourself the question, "What value am I delivering to the recipient?" Be prepared to go back to the drawing boards, if necessary, to insure that your message has been fine-tuned and made relevant for an impatient and time-deprived consumer whom email has made angrier by the minute.

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