Think You’re not a Spammer? Think Again…

In recent years, we’ve heard of companies that are supposedly “too big to fail.” That notion is negotiable, but certainly we have companies that are not too big to fail as well as not too big to spam.

If you think of spammers as never-do-wells sitting in dark, dingy basement apartments trying to trick people into buying Viagra or Costa Rica, think again. And then make sure your own email marketing is legitimate and can’t be labeled as spam. Yes, you: Make sure you’re not a spammer.

“But spammers, those are bad guys, right?”
Sure, you’ve got your classic types of spam, like that poor Nigerian prince who can’t seem to get a break, the emails trying to trick you into handing over personal information by getting you to log in on a bogus web page, emails offering get-rich-quick/lose-weight-fast/win-the-lottery scams, and a variety of financial schemes (or should I say scams?). And that kind of spam is on the rise, according to Kasperky Lab.

But spam is so much more than all that. And you might be a perpetrator after all.

Big brands spam too
If your definition of spam is limited to the kinds of trickery described above, see this BBC article, presenting two examples of large-scale spamming done by big name companies:

  • The first, Flybe, was fined for sending over 3.3 million emails to people who had opted out of receiving emails from the brand.
  • The other, Honda Motor Europe, was fined for sending almost 290,000 emails to people who had not given consent to receiving emails from the company.

Are you surprised to see name brands fined for something you thought only shady characters did? I am quite sure that the companies were also surprised! I doubt either Flybe’s nor Honda Motor Europe’s email marketing teams considered their actions to be anything but legitimate. The word “spam” was not one they considered as they planned the email marketing campaigns that came under fire.

There’s a reason for that, and it has to do with how we define spam…

Spam is in the eye of the beholder
Email spam is not something with a concrete definition. Sure, CAN SPAM and CASL and other organizations have created detailed definitions in order to create laws that regulate spam, but let’s turn to Wikipedia’s definition because it’s simpler: Wikipedia describes spam as “unsolicited messages…sent by email.” The key word here is “unsolicited.”

In both the case of Flybe and Honda Motor Europe, the emails were unsolicited, meaning the recipients had asked not to receive emails (as in the case of Flybe) or they had not given consent in the first place (as in the case of Honda).

But we must also consider the perception of the recipient because “unsolicited” can mean different things to different people. For me, unsolicited might be the emails I keep getting from the brand I bought from 10 years ago and haven’t bought from since—yet they continue to email me week in and week out, month after month and year after year, even though I don’t open their emails. In my opinion, I’ve demonstrated to them that I’m not interested and therefore their emails are unsolicited, or not asked for nor wanted, and therefore spam.

Or consider the companies that start emailing you simply because you downloaded a whitepaper from them. Suddenly you’re on their list because they assumed some kind of implied consent on your part when you clicked on the download link. Those are technically unsolicited emails and many of the recipients probably consider those emails to be spam.

Just think about your own inbox and the deluge of emails you get each day. How many of those would you label as spam using the definition of unsolicited?

“It seemed like a good idea at the time…”
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Email can be challenging because it is so easy to do, and that means it’s so easy to do it wrong. And that includes sending emails to people don’t want to hear from you, just like the companies described above.

How do you avoid being a spammer when really, you’re only trying to be a legitimate email marketer? You start with a higher bar. Seriously. Raise that bar. It’s too easy for email marketers to take advantage of a list. No common-sense filter exists that will prevent them from sending emails they shouldn’t. Email marketers must act as their own filters, setting higher standards and adhering to them to ensure that the only people who receive emails from them are people who want to receive emails from them: solicited, wanted, desired, anticipated emails.

Does this reduce the number of people you’ll be able to email? Possibly. Will it improve the quality of your list? Most definitely. When your list is limited to only those people who want to hear from you, your list becomes one of engaged and interested subscribers, not people who wish your emails would quit showing up in their inboxes.

Next time you and your team are brainstorming some brilliant new email marketing campaign that targets anyone other than your engaged subscribers, stop and ask yourselves if your plan is a legitimate one or will involve sending un-asked for emails. Be honest. Be strict. And be willing to adhere to a higher standard, so you won’t be a spammer, not even an unintentional one.