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The FTC's SPAM Forum in Washington D.C. and one of the most intriguing messages from this conference was that there still was no universally agreed upon definition for SPAM.
Government legislature has state-specific guidelines, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) focuses on prior relationships with the end recipient and the anti-spam activists tend to develop their own rules based on their interpretation of email marketing and it's place on the internet.
The Can SPAM bill (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) was first introduced into the Senate in April of this year and this legislature specifically targets companies who use deceptive methods within email.
Some examples would be forging email headers or including misleading content in the "From" or "Subject" areas of their email. These types of companies try to trick recipients (who most often have not even opted-in) into opening their email.
New Laws and Old Practices
What's the main reason for exhibiting at a tradeshow or conference? Right - to establish relationships with current and potential clients. What about a "brick and mortar" store that has a fish bowl at the checkout stand? Also a popular practice for collecting information (i.e. business cards) from folks who want to be updated with news and information in the future.
These are standard methods for cultivating new prospects, which help to define the needs of your customer base. Should you not be allowed to contact these people because you don't have their IP address logged from the website where they signed up? We all spend a lot of time working on computers but many of us convert some of our best customers through non-electronic means. There should not be a stigma associated with a follow up email after a face-to-face meeting.
What's an ethical email marketer to do?
It's definitely a sticky situation since there is still no consistent policy in place. The best advice I can offer is to be prepared for stricter laws and guidelines for the sending of email. This is not meant to instill fear by any means, as much of the legislature being drafted is a result of deceitful spammer activity and that is obviously not part of the legitimate system.
If you are using an opt-in form tool or you're opting-in subscribers from another source then you are in great shape. Because our system requires a new sign up to validate their registration by clicking a confirmation link within an email, you'll be adding only clean Double Opt-in names to your mailing list.
If you're not currently capturing data in this manner, you'll want to get started right away. It was noted at the FTC forum that companies are likely to receive up to a 35% higher response rate from someone who both signs up and then confirms.
If you're concerned about the extra step being a detractor for potential sign ups you can offer them some type of benefit (i.e. 10% off first purchase, etc) for following through. This will likely increase your subscribe/conversion rate.
Keep track of your data
It's also a good idea to be storing the originating IP address and time stamp for each new subscriber that you obtain. In addition, if you received a contact's information from a trade show, you might want to add a field into your database that allows you to input "notes" for the origin of this person's data. Solid record keeping is a great way to protect yourself should someone on your list cry "SPAM!"
"An increasing number of senders of unsolicited commercial electronic mail purposefully include misleading information in the message's subject lines in order to induce the recipients to view the messages." - - CAN-SPAM Act of 2003
No one likes to feel duped. Don't run the risk of having your email offend your recipients by using trickery in the "From", "Subject" or content of your email. Make sure your subject line is always relevant to the email content that's being sent out.
Being "tricky" is sure to get your email filtered and your company's name tarnished with major ISPs. Your from label should reflect your company name or the name of the person who has the established relationship with the recipient. Not only will these practices lead to a better open rate, but you're likely to reduce the any spam-related complaints that might arise from your email campaign.
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