Relevance is in the eye of the beholder

Why do people in our industry persist in bashing email acquisition? It seems to us that no one’s interests are served when email acquisition is equated with spamming.

The most recent example of this was last week’s Email Insider column where Melinda Krueger equated an email list rental campaign to build awareness for a new business with spam. First, we want to make a point of clarification: email list rental is almost always done with the recipient’s permission. Return Path’s lists, for example, are all double opt-in. Why would smart, top-tier marketers pay high CPMs to send unsolicited email?

Second, the article advances a line of thought that many industry experts believe: retention email to a house file is good, and acquisition email is recognized by all recipients as bad. This simply is not true.

In the eyes of recipients, spam is any email that they no longer find interesting or relevant. It is email they weren’t expecting and don’t find valuable. How it came into their inbox is not the point. In our deliverability consulting business, we have plenty of clients with highly permissioned, house files that generate extremely high complaint rates. Their subscribers think they are being spammed. And why wouldn’t they feel that way? Many email marketers still employ a “it’s free, so let’s just send more” strategy when it comes to their customers. Most reserve their targeting and segmentation strategies for their high-end customers – the majority of the file gets blasted with meaningless, mass messaging. You don’t need me to tell you this – your own inbox in December is testament to it.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who sign up for – and respond to! – acquisition email every single day. These subscribers aren’t stupid – they know what they are signing up for, they know they want email and they like the email they get. We have ample evidence on this point. There is a simple reason for this: email list rental isn’t free! Advertisers who pay $100 CPMs to get their email to a recipient want to optimize their spend – so they pay attention to targeting and relevance to increase response rates.

The devil is in the details when it comes to executing a great email marketing strategy. House programs can be horrible: poorly permissioned, irrelevant to the end user, and difficult to unsubscribe from. Acquisition programs can be great: highly targeted, extremely relevant to the end user and easy to opt out of. Neither is inherently better or worse.

And, by equating any legitimate email marketing tactic with the work of criminals we end up degrading all email marketing.

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