Stupid email practices and the marketers behind them

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.

 

Comments

Frances Dugan
Frances Dugan October 21, 2009 at 12:35 PM

I agree with you 100%. If we want to continue to grow as a legitimate industry and marketing channel, those who want to get in the email marketing game bear the burden of educating themselves before deciding to "blast" untargeted, unsolicited emails. With such abundant resources available on the topic, there's no excuse.

Amy Fanter
Amy Fanter December 29, 2008 at 3:09 PM

If it drives opens, clicks, sales - or whatever metric is your company's measure of success, then it's absolutely fair game.

Joseph
Joseph "Giuseppe" Zuccaro December 29, 2008 at 10:46 AM

Except for the real bottom feeding spammers who are maliciously abusing the collaborative spirit of the Internet to hawk questionable products, I would caution against coming down to harshly on marketers, most of whom are over-worked, under-staffed and under-budgeted.

Not to mention following orders out of fear for losing their job. As long as they are in compliance with CAN-SPAM (see http://www.marketing-consigliere.com/?p=1053), which basically requires them to offer opt-out, they are are conducting themselves legitimately.

While this may be a nuisance to most technologically savvy professionals, please remember we are still evolving towards a truly interactive, network-centric marketing world and there will be a lot of hiccups along the way.

Joseph
Joseph "Giuseppe" Zuccaro December 29, 2008 at 10:46 AM

Except for the real bottom feeding spammers who are maliciously abusing the collaborative spirit of the Internet to hawk questionable products, I would caution against coming down to harshly on marketers, most of whom are over-worked, under-staffed and under-budgeted.

Not to mention following orders out of fear for losing their job. As long as they are in compliance with CAN-SPAM (see http://www.marketing-consigliere.com/?p=1053), which basically requires them to offer opt-out, they are are conducting themselves legitimately.

While this may be a nuisance to most technologically savvy professionals, please remember we are still evolving towards a truly interactive, network-centric marketing world and there will be a lot of hiccups along the way.

Anna Lyon
Anna Lyon September 2, 2008 at 11:33 AM

Good points, but even when you opt in, it seems some marketers want to go out of their way to drive you to opt out. A number of retailers from whom I have purchased items think that I want a daily or near daily email interaction with them. I look forward to emails with useful coupons or heads up on sales or new items, perhaps even as often as once a week, but the same old, same old emails that clutter my email box over and over again have become a nuisance, to the point where I am opting out from places I would otherwise like to shop. If these retailers would show a little more respect to their willing customers, they might find fewer feel the need to opt out.

Anna Lyon
Anna Lyon September 2, 2008 at 9:24 AM

Good points, but even when you opt in, it seems some marketers want to go out of their way to drive you to opt out. A number of retailers from whom I have purchased items think that I want a daily or near daily email interaction with them. I look forward to emails with useful coupons or heads up on sales or new items, perhaps even as often as once a week, but the same old, same old emails that clutter my email box over and over again have become a nuisance, to the point where I am opting out from places I would otherwise like to shop. If these retailers would show a little more respect to their willing customers, they might find fewer feel the need to opt out.

Erin L
Erin L August 20, 2008 at 5:31 PM

Hehehe! I have a sneaking suspicion the real estate agent doesn't know much about email marketing, and was actually duped by a spam message himself... I get unsolicited emails from list sellers almost daily. There's a good chance he opened something in his spam and now he's the proud owner of a useless list. I sense a future recipient of a Darwin award.

scott bowdouris
scott bowdouris August 19, 2008 at 6:16 PM

I've been slammed the past few weeks for offers by one of the large satellite providers. I don't think it is from corporate, but instead from the retailers who focus on satellite sales/installation...i've hit the "add to spam" on every single email (and I'm talking about 20+ emails) and still get them in my inbox...anyone else receiving these constantly?

Iain Urquhart
Iain Urquhart August 19, 2008 at 5:09 PM

So the CEO of an email marketing company thinks all emails should be professionally designed and opt-in. I wonder if he can recommend anyone...?
In an ideal marketing world we would not receive annoying emails, we would not see brash, gaudy retail commercials on TV, we would not be inundated with junk mail flyers at home. In that ideal world all marketing communications would be highly crafted, art directed and targeted for relevance. Why doesn't that happen? Cost!
My guess would be that advertisers continue to use cheap, scatter gun approaches because they do get results. And for small fish in big ponds like your real estate agent, it doesn't matter if he annoys some people, so long as he gets some customers.

Anon Ymous
Anon Ymous August 19, 2008 at 1:33 PM

You know what's stupid, ignorant and offensive? CEO's trying to make a name for their organization by saying things are "stupid, ignorant and offensive".

People glance past opt-in buttons all the time on web sites, then are "indignant" when they get e-mails. I realize that clicking on an unsub link is hard work, but by golly sometimes that just has to happen.

Y. Martin
Y. Martin August 19, 2008 at 12:27 PM

As a consumer and as a marketing professional, I agree wholeheartedly with your ire and disgust at the persistence of unsolicited email. However, it is precisely the persistence of those emails that causes my bosses to continue to insist upon sending to non-opt-in lists. They say, "others are doing it, and we continue to receive these messages despite spending thousands on spam filters, so we should do it too." Do you have any suggestions as to what I might be able to say or do to help change their minds? We've gone over blacklisting and all sorts of other potential (and real) negative consequences, but they don't care.