A Targeting Lesson From The “Companions” of Sin City

bullhornJust because you CAN do something doesn’t make it right. I remember hearing this didactic phrase throughout my childhood from my parents, my teachers and even some of my friends. In fact, I’m sure most people can think back to some times in their lives (both personal and professional) when they did things despite knowing, for one reason or another, they shouldn’t have.  For example, many have probably experienced a time when they were forced to do something against their own judgment by a boss, or a boss’ boss, only to see the final result confirm their initial concerns.

In terms of email deliverability, such scenarios happen more than most would like to admit. You see, there are a lot of things people CAN do with their email programs, especially when looking at them from a legal standpoint, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should. The discrepancy stems from a common misinterpretation of the legal standard, which in the US is known as the CAN-SPAM act. Most email marketers are under the false impression that as long as they comply with this act then all else is safe territory, when in reality it should only serve as line in the sand from a legal position rather than a baseline for best practices.

Before I venture further down the email deliverability route, I would like to share a real life example of a marketing campaign to support my theory that some actionable ideas are just better left undone. For anyone that has walked the streets of Las Vegas, you likely saw people handing out business cards for available “companions.” Well, a few months ago while I was attending a conference in “Sin city,” I walked by a number of these individuals and noticed that some of them had QR codes on their shirts. This got me thinking; if in the event that I did fall into the target audience for this type of entertainment (and let me clarify that I do NOT), I can imagine that I would not feel comfortable grabbing a business card on a crowded and public street, let alone stopping in my tracks to scan a QR code plastered to the middle of a man’s shirt. Overall, the campaign just really missed the mark, and while I can’t exactly say what mark should have been aimed for instead, I can guarantee it shouldn’t have been a QR code on a t-shirt.

So let’s take a look at how this type of behavior translates to email marketing and the effects it might have on campaigns and overall deliverability. As I previously mentioned, CAN-SPAM is the legal starting point for any email marketing program, and under this law marketers are technically allowed to append emails as a means to increase the overall size of both lists and potential customer databases. But is it worth it? From a deliverability standpoint I can tell you that the easy answer is no—almost every instance of email appending that I have witnessed has caused nothing but problems. Never mind the fact that it is probably the easiest way to get blacklisted by such organizations as Spamhaus and Spamcop, but the possibility of getting blocked directly from the ISPs risks a major negative impact on your overall campaigns and marketing ROI.

Moreover, these potential risks are only compounded as marketers continue to buy into the “just send more mail” tactic–an archaic approach that is still supported by far too many self-assessed email marketing experts. The thinking behind this strategy is that more mail will result in more customers recognizing your brand, thus furthering the likelihood that they will purchase your products. Again, increasing email volume is something we can all do (as long as our programs are CAN-SPAM compliant), but the real question is; should we?

What you should do is weigh your options. Sending more messages to someone’s inbox can result in a number of possible outcomes. For one, the individual could unsubscribe or mark your messages as SPAM to avoid being oversaturated with too much mail.  On the other hand, the individual could end up purchasing more based on the increased volume or simply do nothing but open and delete your messages. Of these four options, two will have a negative impact on your marketing efforts.

Now, I am not suggesting that there is never a time to append emails or ramp up your sending volume, but understanding and evaluating the risks should be a crucial component of your strategy and planning. From my own experience, I can deduce that the most successful marketing programs derive from a thoughtful consideration of various options in addition to the potential risks and rewards that they pose. So, if you are confident in your ideas and your planning, move forward, but if not, I encourage you to step back and really ask yourself if and why you should.

Good Luck and Good Sending.

Spencer Kollas

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Head of Global Delivery at CheetahMail

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