Now is the time to redefine e-mail marketing manners

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Looking back over the past decade, I continue to marvel at the power, promise and precision offered by e-mail. It can be a highly effective tool to communicate, build relationships and drive consumer action. Unfortunately, marketers and e-mail service providers often fail to look beyond deliverability and open rates, and fail to consider the end-to-end consumer experience. Marketers tend to forget there is a person behind the e-mail address. It is the customer's e-mail address, not yours. Any other way of thinking is poor etiquette.

Progress has been made in opt-in mechanisms, list hygiene and e-mail authentication. Self-regulation and unsubscribe mechanisms have been established, yet the basics continue to be overlooked. The lack of discipline and alignment to consumer expectations continues to abound. Rather than treating a subscriber as a friend or family, all too often they are treated as a number with irrelevance. Thinking that people who opt in give you license to e-mail them to eternity, share their address, and mail them on nearly any subject, is unacceptable. However, this continues to be the attitude that guides the practices of many marketers. Over the past year, the Online Trust Alliance and its members have surveyed users worldwide on what they like and dislike in e-mail. The findings were not a surprise. Excessive frequency and lack of relevance are the main complaints. Left unchecked, such poor manners will impact your IP reputation and the long-term perception of your brand.

Now is the time to re-define e-mail etiquette. Treat those on your list as you would like to be treated. Treat them as friends and family and mail respectfully. Rather than look at unsubscribes as a metric, recognize them as dissatisfied people who may tell 10 others of their negative experience. Can your brand afford to irritate potential customers?

To build trust and confidence in your brand, ask yourself these simple questions: Is the frequency and subject of your e-mail aligned to the user's expectations when they opted in? Are your privacy policies concise and comprehensible? Are you implementing processes and safeguards to protect customer data from potential misuse? Are you implementing industry best practices to help protect e-mail from being spoofed?

Marketers need to demand restraint. Create a system to monitor e-mail frequency. Set a threshold and get your CEO to buy into it. Setting consumer expectations will help win their hearts, minds and clicks. View your lists an as corporate asset. Good etiquette start at home and with you. Are you up to the challenge?

Craig Spiezle is executive director of the Online Trust Alliance. Reach him at


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