How to avoid spam: Top tips for email marketers with Alchemy Worx

By Chris Lee

The term “spam” is the albatross round the email marketing industry’s neck according to Dela Quist, CEO of email marketing consultancy Alchemy Worx and author of a new book entitled Fear and Self-Loathing in Email Marketing. He argues that spam has given marketers something to be embarrassed about, even though he believes that spam is largely a problem of perception rather than reality. Instead, Quist believes spam demonstrates the power of email and that marketers need to make decisions about sending emails based on their knowledge of what subscribers will accept, not out of fear of being labelled a spammer.

NMK caught up with him to learn more.

Describe spam email to a 2012 audience. How has the term evolved (if at all) in recent years?

The term “spam”, with all its infernal catchiness and infinite adaptability, is the albatross round our industry’s neck. Properly speaking, spam can be defined as unsolicited email – someone who you do not know, who you have no relationship with, sending you a commercial proposition by email. In actual fact, most of us never actually see the spam we’re sent these days, as it’s caught by your email providers spam filters. Yet by a mysterious process of semantic drift, spam – like junk mail – has come to mean too much of anything, and especially too much of anything email. For some, spam has come to mean “all commercial email in my inbox (even if I signed up to receive it)”, or “all unwanted email in my inbox (personal or commercial)”.

When does email marketing become spam?

From a legal perspective (the only perspective that matters) a marketing email is spam if it is sent to an individual(s) who has not opted-in, transacted with the sender or was sent to someone who has unsubscribed/asked to be removed from the email programme. However because people have become so indiscriminate in their use of the word we are in the ridiculous situation where every email marketing message that is sent out is called spam by some people and a relevant and valuable message by others, regardless of whether it is or isn’t from the perspective of the law.

How does email marketing tolerance compare with other ad formats? Do we take it more personally because it is our email?

Our tolerance of email is no higher or lower than our tolerance of any other form of advertising – whether that’s TV ads, radio jingles or posters on the street. If you ask the question would you like lots more advertising on your telly or in your inbox, most (sane) people would say no. So it is a silly question to ask. However if you ask by what means would you prefer to receive offers and promotions email is by far and away the method preferred by consumers and businesses. It ranks far higher than direct mail, SMS, phone call or any form of social media.

All the research we have conducted on behalf of clients shows that the way someone feels about your email is driven by how they feel about your brand and not the other way round. People who like your brand have a strong tendency to under-estimate how much email they get from you while those who do not like your brand as much or have had a bad experience are more likely to over-estimate how much email they get from you and thus more likely to call you a spammer

How will email marketing evolve over the next 12 months?

Email marketing has been around for about 15 years which in digital terms makes it a very mature channel. Email has become the engine of e-commerce, it drives a significant proportion of online revenue, which is why email volumes keep growing by so much each year – both in terms of message frequency and the number companies sending email campaigns. Like other mature channels, TV, radio, direct mail and so forth, it’s unlikely that any single development will transform the way we use email in the next 12 months. What we can say is that email marketing budgets will grow again this year, the dependence on email revenue will increase and this additional investment will manifest itself in better creative, stronger offers and better use of the technology available.

What are your top five tips to email marketers?

1. How people feel about your brand has a strong impact on how they feel about your email, not the other way round

2. Set a target for list growth. List size is the biggest driver of bottom line results

3. Frequency drives engagement – a list that gets one email a week will be more engaged than a list that gets one email a month

4. Don’t just look at rates, always monitor your results in actual numbers – how many opens, clicks, and purchases did your campaign deliver?

5. You don’t need to open an email to be influenced by the subject line – so make sure your subject lines influence non-openers

Quist’s book is published as a series of essays, available monthly to download free to email subscribers at http://www.alchemyworx.com/.

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