Q: I want to do some e-mail marketing, and I have received access to the e-mail addresses of consumers that I would like to target. I know a law has recently passed on what you can't do as far as e-mail marketing. Can you give me some guidelines on what is allowed in e-mail marketing so I can target the consumers whose e-mail addresses I already have?
A: E-mail marketing is an affordable, effective way to convert interested prospects into customers and develop valuable relationships with your existing customer base. And it can be very profitable: According to Forrester Research, the e-mail marketing industry will soar to $4.8 billion this year.
But if you don't follow a few basic rules, your e-mail promotions could actually wind up costing you money-or worse. Send a poorly executed or fraudulent promotion (aka "spam"), and you can expect some or all of the following consequences:
- A damaged reputation and lost revenue.
- Major e-mail service providers like AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo! filtering or blocking your messages.
- Your ISP shutting down your e-mail account.
- Your Web host shutting down your Web site.
- Under the new federal CAN-SPAM Act, fines of up to $2 million or a jail term of up to five years.
Now that I've got your attention, let's go over a few simple guidelines that will put you on track for creating successful, responsible e-mail promotions-not spam:
Operate a legitimate, ethical business. The new CAN-SPAM Act, which was signed by President George W. Bush on December 16, is a federal initiative designed to regulate the most harmful and annoying practices of spammers. Here's a brief list of activities that are now outlawed and/or regulated under CAN-SPAM:
- Falsifying headers (the part of an e-mail message that specifies where it came from).
- Using deceptive subject lines to trick people into opening messages.
- "Hijacking" other peoples' e-mail accounts or computers to send spam.
- Creating e-mail or IP addresses specifically to send spam.
- Sending unsolicited e-mail with sexual content.
- Sending e-mail to people who have requested to be removed from your list.
You'll notice that none of these practices are "accidental." They're malicious ways of forcing messages into the inboxes of people who don't want them. This is not only annoying, but also unprofitable and illegal. If you really want to run a successful, long-term e-mail marketing campaign, the only way you'll succeed is to honestly promote a legitimate business with real and valuable products or services.
Stay educated about e-mail marketing and spam laws. Laws and definitions are changing, so it's up to you to stay on top of new developments and ensure that your e-mail promotions are responsible, legal and ultimately profitable. A good place to start is at www.spamlaws.com.
Here are five pointers for planning successful e-mail promotions that won't get you accused of sending spam:
- Send e-mail to people who have consented to receive it from you. For example, your customers and e-newsletter subscribers fit this description. The owners of e-mail addresses you've purchased on a CD for $40 do not.
- If you must buy or rent lists, find out how the addresses were collected. If the people on the list haven't agreed to receive e-mail promotions, you're the one who could end up in hot water.
- Use a subject line that accurately reflects the content of your e-mail.
- Include a real return address and a working "unsubscribe" link in every mail you send. If you have a large list, you'll need software or an ASP to manage opt-ins and "unsubscribe" requests.
- If you're sending commercial e-mail (such as promotions), include your company's physical mailing address in the body of the e-mail. And yes, this requirement applies to newsletters as well, if their primary purpose is to advertise or promote a product or service.
Finally, when designing promotions, remember that people buy products and services from companies they trust. A single e-mail promotion just can't establish that kind of relationship between you and your potential customers, but it can be a first step.
Think of your promotions as part of an ongoing dialog between you and your potential customers, and you'll be on the right track. What kind of company would you be more likely to buy from: one chasing a fast buck, or one that takes the time to earn your trust before it tries to sell you something?
If you can stay informed and tread lightly, your mailings should be recognized for what they are-responsible e-mail promotions, not spam. Good luck!
Corey Rudl, president and founder of the Internet Marketing Center, is the author of the best-selling courseInsider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet. An internationally sought-after Internet business consultant and speaker, Corey focuses his energy on the research and development of practical, cost-effective Internet marketing strategies and software for the small and homebased business owner.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.