Best practices: a meaningless term

Chad White wrote an article for MediaPost about best practices which parallels a lot of thinking I’ve been doing about how the email marketing industry treats best practices.

After several conversations recently about “best practices,” I’m convinced that the term is now meaningless. It’s been bastardized in the same way that the definition of “spam” has shifted to the point that it has very different meanings to different groups of people.

I have actually had clients tell me things like “we follow all the best practices” only to tell me later in the phone call that they go out of their way to ignore opt-outs. When a company ignores opt-outs as a matter of policy and then feels safe claiming they follow all the best practices then the term is totally meaningless.

Best practices as I tend to think of them are technical implementations of commonly accepted policies. It’s how you translate intention into action.

With email marketing, though, there are very few commonly accepted policies. In fact, I’d argue that there are no commonly accepted policies. There’s not even any real consensus on whether or not permission is necessary to send email.

If you can’t even agree on the first principles, like permission, then best practices is a totally meaningless phrase. In fact, in many cases when a client tells me they follow all the best practices it tells me nothing about what they are actually doing. Instead we have to go back and establish what they’re drawing the term best practices from.

All of these things that just confirm Chad’s observation that best practices is a totally meaningless term.


  1. Udeme says

    The same way “we follow all the best practices” is meaningless – that’s how “I’m CAN-SPAM compliant” started. I wonder what acronym/phrase will be used next.

  2. Melinda says

    Glad you brought this up. I’ve been struggling with this “phrase” for sometime. The “I follow best practices” is such a wide brush, it can really mean anything.

  3. The Proverbial Barry says

    the problem is that marketers think they can change what the best practices are

    everyone else already agreed now it is time for them to catch up

  4. John Levine says

    All this tells us is that marketers will say anything to get their junk through. This is news?

  5. adamo says

    Usually I see the term used as an excuse when there is lack of better arguments. The book of “The New School of Information Security” is attacking the BCP mentality. There is also a cool post that proposes asking seven “Why?” in a row whenever we face a “best practice”.

  6. Six best practices for every mailer – Word to the Wise says

    [...] said in the past that I think that best practices are primarily technical. I don’t believe there is a best frequency or a best time to send mail or a best image to [...]

  7. Best Practices: your mileage may vary – Word to the Wise says

    [...] I’ve talked before about how I don’t believe there are any universal best practices for email. [...]


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