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Permission-ish based marketing

My Mum flew in to visit last week, and over dinner one evening the talk turned to email.

We don’t get much spam on Yahoo, mostly because we don’t give our email address out much. The only spam we really get is from <stockbroker website>, and that all goes to the spam folder. We use the site for checking stock quotes – it’s free, and we never see any of the spam they send.

A typical email marketer would look at that and object loudly to her use of the “S word” to describe their email – it’s mail the subscriber signed up and gave permission for, and they have an ongoing relationship with the sender, and they haven’t unsubscribed, and, and, and…
But a delivery expert will point out that none of that matters one jot. Sure, the sender has a figleaf of permission, because they convinced the recipient to “subscribe to their mailings” (even if that was via the threat of withholding a free web service if they didn’t sign up). And that does provide some legal protection.
But as far as delivering email to recipients inboxes, let alone receiving any ROI for an email campaign, it’s pretty much irrelevant. The recipient perceives the mail as spam, and describes it as such to other people – “<stockbroker company> sends spam” is not the image you want to have. The subscriber doesn’t read the email, doesn’t want the email, certainly doesn’t pull it out of the spam folder and may well be hitting the “this is spam” button for messages that end up in the inbox.
You’re certainly not getting any benefit at all from that subscriber, and their relationship to the mail you’re sending them – not opening or interacting with it, categorizing it as spam, etc – is teaching their ISPs spam filters that your mail is unwanted spam. The reputation of your domain, your content and your sending IP addresses will suffer, and your delivery rates to all your subscribers will suffer.
If you’re forcing someone to give you permission, it’s not permission-based marketing.

22 comments

  1. Jim Popovitch says

    So, what is the remediation for people who accept agreements for email they then claim “This is Spam” ?

  2. Huey says

    Simple: stop sending mail to them.

  3. Al Iverson says

    Yeah. Bigger deliverability issues are rarely caused by false positive spam reports. If you ask for permission and get it, complaints are much lower than if you force permission or spam. ISPs know this, and that’s why they typically work off of complaint percentages, not single complaints.

  4. Jim Popovitch says

    Sure, stop sending them mail works, but only for that 1 sender. That still leaves a zillion other senders at risk of the bad behavior of the “Today, I want what you will give me, tomorrow I will press the Spam button”. To solve this problem, the cure needs to ultimately start at the source.

  5. steve says

    As Al says, single reports of mail being spam don’t have much, if any, impact. But a broader trend of sending mail that people don’t want – that can be really bad for your business.
    So those zillion other senders need to work out how to send email people want too. (Or get out of the “sending email to people who don’t want it” business some other way.)

  6. Jim Popovitch says

    Steve, and Al, I agree. The problem I see is from generally competent folks who knowingly subscribe to a confirmed+opt-in mailing list, who then get busy elsewhere in life and, rather than follow clearly exposed unsub instructions, start to hit the spam button because they know it will remove the emails from their inbox. All I’m pointing out is the need for “spam button providers” to better educate their clientele. To me, this is akin to the “driving with your turn signal on” problem. Yes, every other driver can work around the one un-aware driver, but the world is better off due to auto-disengage technology, as well as the stigma associated with driving with your turn signal on.

  7. J.D. Falk says

    There’ve been studies saying that many users DO know what happens when they press the spam button, and they don’t care.
    A subscription, however informed, is not a contract. There’s no point in getting upset that the recipient isn’t honoring their end of the deal. Better to respect their decision, and let them go.

  8. Jim Popovitch says

    Let’s apply that same logic to spam…. The sender doesn’t care (studies have shown this), so there is no point in getting upset, respect there decision (hopefully discard), and let them go. 😉 <——– *****
    Seriously, if there was a RBL of folks who "DO know what happens", I'd use it.

  9. Steve white says

    Speaking of that large free email provider….
    My account received an email advertising their “games” service. Apparently when I signed up and created the account, it was buried in the terms and conditions that I would occasionally receive marketing messages.
    By speaking to my contacts, I have understood that this promotional mailing was sent on behalf of the ISP to its users advertising another of its services. These promotional messages are sent from time to time and users can always opt-out. What is interesting is the complaint rate of this campaign. It’s quite high =(.
    The ISP engages in this behavior, but does not allow public bulk senders to do this. In fact, in order to send this promotional mailing, the tech team disables the spam filters on its own IPs.

  10. Huey says

    That analogy doesn’t work, most importantly because you can’t opt-in to spam, but also because someone who opts out via the ‘spam’ button isn’t stealing anyone’s resources to do it. And when this happens, you unsubscribe them.
    It lacks a certain elegance, sure, but it’s simple, and it works. If someone doesn’t want to get mail from you: stop sending it to them. Problem solved.

  11. Jim Popovitch says

    But the problem is in knowing when to stop sending it. <— That requires resources.

  12. Harry Hilders says

    Interesting read. And a dillema, when to remove people from a list.

  13. Can you guarantee my deliverability? | MailChimp Email Marketing Blog says

    […] is collected through confirmable opt-in methods.  There are no assumptions about permission in play. (The account owners […]

  14. Jim Popovitch says

    Related thought… what is the value of an FBL over a 550 bounce. I know of 2, possibly 3, mailing list products that auto-handle bounces. Sure they could be modified to additionally handle FBL reports, but in reality how much more info does an FBL provide that a proper bounce doesn’t/hastn’t?

  15. Al Iverson says

    A bounce and a complaint are two separate things.

  16. Jim Popovitch says

    Al, sure. But from the vantage point of a sender they both result in the same action. So if receivers want to help senders, can you please start bouncing email that is determined to be un-wanted (whether that determination is made by manual or automatic means). It would make many lives so much easier.

  17. steve says

    from the vantage point of a sender they both result in the same action
    Actually, no. They’re entirely different things, and any competent sender will do very different things in response to the two (both in terms of immediate action and ongoing reporting metrics).

  18. Jim Popovitch says

    I don’t thing that holds true for all senders, perhaps some. From my arena (mailing lists), if I send emails, and enough bounce, the account is set to no-mail. If I send undesirable content, and 1 FBL comes back, the account is set to no-mail. The prior condition (bounce) is automated. The latter condition (“This is Spam”) has to have manual review (but that comes at a cost)…which always results in the account being set to no-mail. To me they are the same result, albeit bounces are given more leeway.

  19. Al Iverson says

    That doesn’t change the fact that they’re two different events. Most ESPs do invalidate an address after a number of bounces, and they do indeed unsubscribe someone when a complaint is lodged. The net result in both cases is that the mail stops. But, the data is used for other purposes. At the ESP I work at, we use elevated levels of complaints and/or bounces as an indicator that a client may be in violation of our policies. But, the thresholds and scenarios are different between bounces and complaints. As you yourself say, “but bounces get more leeway.” To apply that leeway, I need to be able to measure one vs the other discreetly.
    This thing you wish to have happen; automatic unsubscribing of complainers; it already exists for many folks. Apparently just not in your environment. The fix for that is not that we need to change how FBLs work to better suit you; the fix is probably that it’s time for you to modify your environment.
    Here’s your homework assignment: Write a shell script to process inbound mail to your abuse desk or FBL complaint address. If it’s recognized as list mail, have the script generate a message to the VERP-encoded envelope sender used by your list manager. Boom, you’ve got your desired “FBL reports cause a bounce” solution.
    As a sender, a rather large sender, I can tell you that processing FBLs has a similar cost to processing bounces. “This is spam” does not have that significant additional cost for me nor for most of the other big senders I know of.

  20. Jim Popovitch says

    > the fix is probably that it’s time for you to modify your environment.
    That comes with a cost (time + maintenance), but I do understand your points. The problem is that I am not alone in experiencing this problem, and every other similar person would have to do the same. It’s a problem that affects every other mailing list operator, big or small. GMail does a good job at the “Would you like us to try unsubscribing you from this list’, other email providers could do more, imho.

  21. Andy T says

    A fantastic example of how a brand being legally entitled to email someone doesn’t mean their not spamming them. Missing out these perceptions can really do inbox placement a right injury.

  22. Permission. – Word to the Wise says

    […] Permission-ish based email marketing […]

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