The enemy within û poor e-mail practices hurt the entire industry

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It's easy to blame large-scale spammers and phishers for tarnishing the industry's reputation because the damage is so obvious. But that's only part of the problem. Marketers from global enterprises to neighborhood restaurants do just as much harm through less-than-stellar e-mail practices.

Some common poor practices hurt us all, including not getting permission. Permission is the foundation for a successful e-mail marketing program. I'm always shocked that companies put their valued customer relationships at risk by sending unsolicited e-mail. Consumers have more control than ever over their inboxes, and they've proven themselves willing to take action when they feel violated - even when the message in question is from a company they have a prior relationship with.

But gaining consent isn't just the right thing to do. A permission-based strategy outperforms an unsolicited approach. Period.

Another bad practice to avoid is becoming an e-mail pest. By many counts, e-mail delivers the highest ROI of all marketing channels. But this often tempts marketers and their bosses to abuse it: "If two e-mails a week work, then let's send four."

Sure, increasing frequency likely boosts sales in the short term. But if those extra messages are unexpected and unwelcome, they can cost money in the long run. Sending too frequently can drive spam complaints and unsubscribes through the roof - increasing list churn, reducing future revenues and increasing costs to reacquire lost customers. And it's a surefire way to get placed in the same category as illegal spammers - at least in the minds of your subscribers. Identify your optimum frequency for maximizing ROI, and stick with it.

Another bad practice is ignoring the importance of reputation. Today, most marketers understand that sender reputation plays a key role in deliverability. But it's more than managing spam complaints - it includes everything that affects how you appear to your recipients.

E-mail is your most personal communications channel. Overaggressive offers, spammy subject lines and poor message design don't just affect deliverability, they can damage your company's brand, even hurting revenue in other channels.

E-mail subscribers remember what they've agreed to accept, and they notice which brands respect the e-mail relationship and which ones deliver relevant content. They also know the power of the spam button and the unsubscribe functions.

Too often marketers violate their subscribers' trust with practices that may not be illegal, but certainly aren't advisable or even effective in the long run. While the industry continues to fight spammers and phishers, let's put an end to the enemy within - poor practices from otherwise legitimate marketers.

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