Recently, I have noticed a rising trend that might be due to this rough economy or perhaps just sheer laziness. Quite a few emails are finding their way into my inbox without any direct permission being granted to the sender. I am not talking about the usual spam that inevitably clutters our lives. I am talking big brands, real marketing messages and conflicted and confused senders.
Below I provide several examples of emails my team and I have received without having provided any specific opt-in to the senders or their companies, affiliates, friends or family.
First off, a major seller of concerts tickets targeted a colleague of mine with its ongoing promotional emails without his opt-in. The company disclosed this move in small fine print at the bottom of the email, which noted that you had to opt out to stop receiving the messages.
Would it hurt so much to ask for an opt-in rather than assuming this is OK?
In another example, one of the world's biggest automobile makers has the good fortune of having a huge dealer network. On the email front, that appears to be a huge liability for the brand. After an exhaustive search for a car for my wife a few years back, I still receive email solicitations from random dealers to which I never provided an opt-in. In fact, I didn't buy from them; I didn't even visit them! (The content and layout of the dealer solicitations are an entirely different subject, but believe me, there is much to critique on this front.)
Just because I may have had an email conversation with a sales agent years ago does not mean that person can opt me in to random and awful car dealership email promos.
In a third -- and perhaps most disturbing -- example, I received an email solicitation from a real estate agent of a global company to buy or sell a house and use him as my agent. I should mention I have no idea who this person is and have never come in contact with him or his company.
This sudden and unsolicited email promotion from the real estate agent has found its way into my all-time hall of shame in the category of Worst Emails Ever. This one holds the strategy trophy in this category, a dubious distinction indeed. The agent's strategy -- a generous term -- is detailed below, as the sender/real estate agent told me in a follow-up email:
...this is the first time I have tried to use an email service to send out emails. I actually wanted it to go to people's spam folder and they could chose (sic) to open it or not [bolding added by me for emphasis]. I hope it went to your spam. May I ask, were you able to see the image advertisement I had? I would appreciate your thoughts -- and if the email offended you -- I am sorry, but would like to know that too and maybe I won't do this again as a marketing effort.
Our exchange continues below after I questioned his marketing campaign:
I am getting extremely high open rates on the emails, so in this competitive real estate market, that is good. And I understand about getting unsolicited emails -- if you want to make sure they don't sell your name to others, I bought the list from a company in Chicago called X [company name removed, as I would hate to provide it with exposure]... You could call or email them I am sure and have them take you off their lists.
I had to call it a day after the last email. Obviously, the email marketing world still has some work to do in educating the masses about why permission matters. Do these offending companies think these tactics will result in the sale of more tickets, cars and houses?
Just because email is cheap and accessible doesn't mean it should be practiced by all. The backlash can be severe -- and rightfully so.
Firing off emails in the hopes that something sticks is just not a smart way to market. There is much evidence that demonstrates email marketing works when permission is part of the mix. If it isn't there, then maybe you shouldn't be either.
Buying something from a company -- regardless of whether it is a one-time purchase or you are a frequent customer -- does not equate to providing an opt-in to future marketing campaigns. When will email marketers and their bosses start to understand this? Permission marketing means what it says, and the results of such campaigns surpass the results of campaigns that simply blast emails to anyone and everyone in a database.
Do you agree with me, or I am off in what is fair game in the email marketing world?
G. Simms Jenkins is founder and CEO of BrightWave Marketing, an Atlanta-based email marketing and customer relationship services firm. He is the author of "The Truth About Email Marketing," published in August 2008.