It started out seemingly harmless. I was sitting outside on our deck, unwinding over the Memorial Day weekend with the new, re-designed Newsweek (BTW — cool content and layout changes – props to Meacham and co). As I leisurely thumbed through the pages, an article on the Webby awards caught my eye. In the short article, journalist Barrett Sheridan admonishes the ever-growing field of competition in these online awards and in doing so quickly and parenthetically dismisses all email marketing as spam un-deserving of Webby consideration.
I don’t write this in deference to the Webby’s but rather in defense of one of the more powerful marketing channels in an ever-changing marketplace. With over 90% of online users between the ages of 18–72 using email, it is the top online activity beating out search. A staggering 25% of us check email upon waking. Recently 79% of marketers polled count email among their marketing mix versus 75% for the medium’s elder cousin, direct mail. A high profile case study? Much praise is given to the new-media savvy of the Obama campaign. However social media glitz and buzz aside, the campaign’s real new-media secret weapon was its 13.5 million strong permission-based email marketing database which solicited a lion’s share of online donations.
Furthermore, email marketing certainly can be a well-executed art, meritous of award consideration. But like any other message medium, much depends on the skill of the craftspersons charged with its execution. As TBWA Wordwide Creative Chief Lee Clow said, “When advertising’s done well, it can become part of our culture. When it’s done badly, it becomes visual pollution.”
For Mr. Sheridan’s edification, here is a quick primer on how to tell if your email marketing is NOT SPAM …
- If the message is sent to a customer or contact who has given permission to communicate with them via email, then it’s NOT SPAM
- If it is relavant to the audience then it’s NOT SPAM
- If the sender has been careful not to over-mail and abuse the customers’ permission, then it’s NOT SPAM
- If it is compliant with CAN-SPAM guidelines, then (duh!) it’s NOT SPAM
- For a more detail, please read Permission Marketing by Seth Godin.
This is not to say that there’s not email marketing that is spam. My inbox looks just like yours with an occasionally unhealthy quota of … pharmaceutical supplements. But to be truly fair, there is spam in all media. That junky fire sale postcard I get every other day from a revolving door of senders? Spam. That billboard obstructing my view as I drive along the countryside? Spam. Most unwanted TV, radio, and online ads? Spam. I am not diminishing any of the media channels noted above — we work with all when the time is right for each. Rather, I am pointing out that it quickly becomes a slippery slope. Spam is not something that can be confined to any singular media as it represents a philosophy. And it’s a harsh label that is too often applied to this effective channel that can deliver considerable ROI when executed carefully.
Thus email marketing — real email marketing to cusomters who asked to hear from you — is not spam.
Photo credit: freezelight via Flickr