I recently worked at a large produce industry convention and trade show for a client. (I wrote, directed and produced daily video news coverage of the event – great fun!) My client registered me so that I received an official event badge, as that badge gave me access to all event locations for my job. In the weeks after the show, my in box was flooded with marketing emails, presumably from exhibitors who accessed the event’s registration list. The emails have run the gamut, from well done to outright illegal.
Assuming you want to be in the former rather than the latter category, here are my basic email dos and don’ts:
1. DO know the law. Yes, there is a law governing bulk emailing. The oh-so-aptly named CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 lays out the basic do’s and don’ts that mass emailers must follow. Each violation can bring a penalty of as much as $16,000, so it behooves you to know the basics (read the Federal Trade Commission’s summary here). For example, your email must allow recipients to unsubscribe and to include a valid physical address, and to be truthful in subject lines and “from” fields.
2. DO engage in permission marketing. Permission marketing is just that – your subscribers first give you express permission to send them information. Building an email list this way requires considerably more work than (for example) simply dumping a conference registration list into your database, no doubt about it. But at the end of the day the list you build is of pre-qualified contacts who actually want to hear from you. Aren’t those the folks you’d rather be reaching anyway?
3. DON’T diss your recipients. Few things elicit the visceral reaction that unsolicited emails do. It doesn’t matter whether you think what you have to say is CBI (critical business information) – that decision is up to the recipient. So respect the folks you want to do business with. This includes first inviting them to join your list (re-read item #2), allowing them to unsubscribe easily, and otherwise making it easy for them to reach you.
4. DO learn from your unsubscribers. Every emailer experiences unsubscribes, so don’t beat yourself up when they happen – but do try to learn from them. Many bulk email services allow you to auto-survey unsubscribers to find out why they are leaving, so be sure to turn that feature and tailor your survey on when setting up your account. Then pay attention to what unsubscribers are telling you. Are they leaving because you’re contacting them too often? Then reconsider your frequency to avoid fatigue; some email services even allow recipients to specify a lower frequency (think: weekly instead of daily, or monthly instead of weekly). Or more serious, are they leaving because they don’t find your information helpful? Then review your content plan to make sure you’re meeting your audience’s needs, not just pushing your company at them.
Now, let’s rate some of the emailers who contacted me after that produce industry conference:
- The inviter: One company contacted me once post-conference, inviting me to join its list; I give that company a B-. They would have earned an A+ had they built a qualified lead list, for example by signing up booth visitors, rather than list dumping (albeit for one-time use).
- The what-a-waster: Another exhibitor contacted me multiple times to push a product that isn’t remotely relevant to my business. I give them an F for engaging in indiscriminate list dumping (I assume they contacted every registrant). Don’t! list! dump! But if you insist on list dumping (hopefully just to send an invite), at least segment the list to the most relevant type of registrant. For example, if you sell farm implements, don’t email retailers.
- The outlaw: Another company has emailed me several times without giving me the option to opt out – I can’t even write them (as if I would take the time to do that), because they don’t include an address. I give them a grade of I (for “illegal”). I’ve marked them as junk mailers, forever relegating them to my spam folder. They’ve permanently lost the ability to communicate with me.
Your turn: What lessons have you learned as an email marketer that you’d list to share? What questions do you have?