Spam -- There Ought to be a Law, Maybe
The Marketing Argument for an Opt-in E-mail Standard
There ought to be a law! And many
legislators are working on it. If you have an e-mail
address you know what I'm talking about - spam.
Ah, but just what is spam and what kind of
law could effectively put an end to it without
jeopardizing our ability to send our commercial message, uninvited, to the e-mail recipients,
who we are sure will want to receive it? After all, we would never spam.
Nine years of online marketing has taught
us the difference in effectiveness of various marketing
tools, including e-mail. E-mail is the only Internet tool
that allows us to push out our message rather than to
passively wait for a prospect to stumble across it - and
it's free! Or at least very low cost. Of course, that is
the problem; it is too tempting and too easily abused.
And the problem is International. Most of
my junk mail looks like comic strip swearing. What law
that the US Congress can pass will put a stop to that, I
The current big idea is to create a "do
not e-mail" list similar to the "do not call" list
to fight unsolicited telemarketing - an opt-out list that
all can subscribe to. Well my e-mail address isn't going
on that list, uh-uh, honey.
The most egregious spammers; the ones who
sell e-mail harvested from Web sites as "double opt-in"
e-mail addresses; the ones who mask their identity to hide
who they are, the ones who promise to augment various body
parts and cure your financial woes; those folks are
drooling at the very thought of such a list.
The law needs to be very carefully thought
out and it needs to have international agreement. The
European community has set a standard of "opt-in."
Bulk messages can only be sent to e-mail addresses
specifically given for that purpose.
Does that kill e-mail as
a marketing tool?
No. It makes e-mail an even more powerful
marketing tool and here's why.
The most useful aspect of the Internet as a
marketing tool is the ability to build relationships, with
your customers, your business partners and your market as
a whole over great distances. E-mail is the bedrock of
these relationships, providing inexpensive publishing of
newsletters, ability to be involved in discussion groups
and ability to inexpensively touch base with customers on
an ongoing basis.
Used appropriately, e-mail is the goose
that lays golden eggs. The whole NetSuds empire was built
using opt-in e-mail. Misuse of e-mail bears a heavy price,
When the bookseller Barnes & Noble
ventured onto the Internet, their first action was to buy
an e-mail list and announce the new online store. They
spent the next two years recovering from that. Even
Internet savvy Amazon was christened "Spamazon" for
sending promotional e-mail to people who had bought books
from them; they had not gained permission to send future
Now, the spam is so bad that few people
take the trouble to protest to the perceived spammer, but
that makes damage done by unsolicited e-mail all the more
insidious. Recipients may be forming negative impressions
and you have no way of knowing.
Then how can the good
guys do direct marketing using e-mail?
There are two ways to promote using e-mail
lists that you have not built yourself:
- Sponsor an e-mail newsletter or
discussion group with an ad.
- Send e-mail to someone else's
E-mail advertising or sponsorship has a
much higher response rate than banner advertising. If the
message is well targeted to the interest of the newsletter
or discussion, you can experience click-through rates
between 2% and 5% as opposed to unsolicited e-mail which
boasts .2% to .5% click-through and banner advertising,
which is experiencing .5% CTR.
The e-mail advertising works best when
there is a strong affinity between the subscriber and the
newsletter, such as NetSuds. Advertising through free
discussion hosts such as Topica, is less effective because
people relate to the moderator of the list and not to
Topica. Ads in newsletters or discussion groups hosted
free by Topica are treated like banner advertising and
have a similar response.
The second option, sending a message to
someone else's opt-in list ventures toward the gray area
between spam and not spam. The primary difference is that
an opt-in e-mail list cannot be purchased. A true
opt-in list has specified to the e-mail address owner the
use that will be made of the e-mail address. Once the
address has been sold, the opt-in list owner no longer has
control of how the list is used and can not live up to the
agreed upon use. When you send e-mail to a list that you
have purchased it is perceived by the recipient as spam
and negatively impacts your brand image.
Our experience with well targeted, stand
alone e-mail offers to true opt-in e-mail lists shows, not
only a higher click-through rate, but also a higher
conversion rate. A free offer promoted through both
banners and e-mail to several opt-in lists had a
click-through rate of .2% for the banners vs. 2.2% for the
e-mail. The conversion rate was even more dramatic; while
about 2% of those clicking through the banner acted on the
free offer, about 45% of those clicking through from the
e-mail acted on the offer (see chart).
AVERAGE CLICK RATE
AVERAGE CONV. RATE
NO. OF LEADS
All Dedicated Email
Why should the standard
be opt-in rather than allowing people to just opt-out?
We have already experienced the
ineffectiveness of laws requiring information about how to
opt-out in e-mail. Many spammers now have a paragraph in
their spam messages pointing out that their spam is not
spam because you can opt-out. Many have complained that
the opt-out feature is simply used to confirm that the
e-mail is working and brings on even more spam. This has
destroyed the trust of e-mail recipients to the extent
that they can be hostile to unsolicited e-mail, even with
a valid opt-out mechanism.
The following graph taken from the July 16,
2002 eMarketer Newsletter illustrates the difference in
performance between opt-in e-mail lists and opt-out.
When interviewed about the performance of
opt-in vs. opt-out e-mail lists, while 78% of respondents
believed that a list can be grown faster using an opt-out
mechanism, the same percentage saw that opt-in e-mail
lists delivered much better results as shown in the
With permission from eMarketer.com
There may need to be a law, but with or
without a law there are good reasons for online marketers
to make opt-in e-mail the rule when building lists. We
have shown that opt-in e-mail advertising gets excellent
results and building opt-in lists creates stronger rapport
with clients and better response from prospects.
Initially published in NetSuds Monthly Report, August 2003