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Spam isn't a best practice

I’m hearing a lot of claims about best practices recently and I’m wondering what people really mean by the term. All too often people tell me that they comply with “all best practices” followed by a list of things they do that are clearly not best practices.
Some of those folks are clients or sales prospects but some of them are actually industry colleagues that have customers sending spam. In either case, I’ve been thinking a lot about best practices and what we all mean when we talk about best practices. In conversing with various people it’s clear that the term doesn’t mean what the speakers think it means.
For me, best practice means sending mail in a way that create happy and engaged recipients. There are a lot of details wrapped up in there, but all implementation choices stem from the answer to the question “what will make our customers happy.” But a lot of marketers, email and otherwise, don’t focus on what makes their recipients or targets happy.
In fact, for many people I talk to when they say “best practice” what they really mean is “send as much mail as recipients will tolerate.” This isn’t that surprising, the advertising and marketing industries survive by pushing things as far as the target will tolerate (emphasis added).

Just as it did over-the-air, those purveyors of television advertising will push the limits of toleration in their quest for profit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s understand that in so doing, we’re pushing people who can now push back.
The unwanted messages theme is the same with mass media in print. A paper with nothing but ads is called a sale paper or advertising supplement. There’s only so far you can stretch the display advertising model before people begin to complain, too. Why? Because there’s no demand for unwanted messages.

The ability of people to push back is magnified in the email space. Recipients can push back against unwanted messages directly as individuals by using the this-is-spam button in their mail clients. They can block certain senders, they can filter mail out of their inbox. But even more than that, if many recipients push back against a particular sender, the ISPs notice. Their individual pushbacks are noticed the ISP acts to block or filter mail for all their users.
Best practices aren’t just about authentication, or personalization or any of the specific actions people are thinking about when they mention best practices. The term best practices is really shorthand for “don’t send spam.” Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies that send spam and still proclaim they’re following all best practices.
Really. Spam isn’t a best practice.

1 comment

  1. J.D. Falk says

    Best practices are BEST — they aren’t the only possible practices, and they aren’t laws. But, don’t expect any sympathy if you aren’t following the best practices and then run into the exact problems that the best practices were developed to avoid.

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