Online Exclusive: Holding Back E-Mail -- the Only Way to Go

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It seemed only a few hours after the big ball dropped in Times Square that another big ball was dropped in the laps of e-mail marketers -- the CAN-SPAM Act. There was suddenly government regulation in a world where the only "rules" were codes of etiquette that responsible, legitimate marketers followed as closely as possible (and the unethical ones scoffed at).


The sudden onset of CAN-SPAM left many marketers wondering what the law was -- and left even more of them wondering how to meet all the requirements quickly -- lest they be the "example" spam-weary Americans could target.


Once people understood what the law required of them, they realized that most of the policies were rather easy to enact:


* Adding a physical address to the message. Simple.


* Using an actual contact and/or company name. No problem.


* Featuring a subject line that clearly states the offer. Piece of cake.


* Providing an active opt-out link. Consider it done.


* Maintaining the file of opt-outs and providing all addresses in the file from Jan. 1 through 10 days before transmission to be suppressed from all e-mail promotions (both direct and third-party) ... Umm, can we have a minute?


Of all the regulations, opt-out file maintenance and suppression was the biggest hurdle for e-mail marketers. Many mailers discovered they had the resources to collect and maintain the addresses themselves, but those who could not were faced with a challenge.


How can a large corporation, with offices (and e-mail addresses) around the world, be sure it is collecting the opt outs from all the different e-mail campaigns the company may be running at one time, and get those addresses suppressed in a timely, accurate manner?


Two words: Secure Web site. Many large-scale mailers had to develop secure Web sites that could collect all the opt-outs their various e-mail communications receive. These sites house the corporate database of individuals who had responded to any e-mail correspondence with a remove request. Whenever any segment of the company elected to execute an e-mail campaign, it could simply download the current database and supply it for suppression from the list being used for the broadcast.


This sounds simple enough, but as anyone who has worked in Corporate America knows, global changes in big companies are never quick and easy. Many large corporations are still on an e-mail marketing hiatus while they develop the means to collect, manage and maintain their opt-outs.


So for now, e-mail traffic has slowed a bit. But the lag is definitely temporary. By the time the next big ball drops in Times Square, things in the e-mail world will be back to normal -- with inboxes everywhere filling with commercial e-mail wishing them a happier New Year if they 'try this new product.'


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