Build Email Relationships, Not Spam Lists

Recently, a client posed this question: “Some of the people with whom I work think we should collect email addresses from colleagues, friends, and associates who are affiliated with our industry. They want to add these contacts to our email newsletter mailing list. We work hard to make our newsletter content relevant to anyone in our industry, so they feel the contacts wouldn’t mind receiving the mailing. What are your thoughts on this strategy of growing our list?” In my response I tried to go light on shaming her for even thinking that adding people to an email marketing list without their permission is appropriate. Instead, I wanted to emphasize that something of real value is at stake when they take this approach to list building. I also pointed out that there are better ways to ‘take advantage’ of colleagues who MAY enjoy their newsletter. I summarized my response to her below; let me know if you have a different take. Effective email marketing is permission-based. If not, it is called spam. That sounds harsh, I know, but when I get email marketing messages that I didn’t sign up for, I think of it as spam - why would anyone feel differently about messages I send them? Email marketing is a kind of relationship. Every message is an opportunity to either strengthen or weaken (or having no effect on) the relationship. The best way to cultivate or grow the relationship is to make sure the content is relevant, useful, and interesting to the readers. If they never wanted to receive the messages in the first place, this is a very difficult goal to achieve - they are immediately suspicious of the email. (Think about how you feel when telemarketers call.) Growing a bigger list of people who don’t want, open, or read your emails gives you no advantage. It just costs more money to send out your routine mailings. A bigger list is only better if the subscribers are engaged with your messages. I expect many of the manually added addresses would subsequently unsubscribe; and if not, I expect few of them would ever open any messages. Even when someone deletes a message without opening it, they still see who it’s “From”. They are still exposed to your brand. The only take-home message they get is that you keep emailing them even though they don’t want you to! This is actively detrimental to the reputation you have and to the relationship you’re trying to build. If you or your co-workers think that some of these people may actually be interested in your content, I suggest you send a very friendly message from your own inbox, inviting them to check out and subscribe to the newsletter. If they ignore the invitation or decline it, that’s fine; they can always sign up later. You’re not losing anything by doing this - they don’t want to get the messages, anyway! This strategy communicates sincerity and respect and will impress readers who know that you could have just as easily subscribed them without asking. If it’s worded well, this invitation message could make a positive first impression and be a very good start to the (hopefully) long term email marketing relationship. The bottom line is that if you’re not sure your approach is above board, it’s probably not. Relationships built on trust will last; relationships built on spam are doomed. If you think someone might like to be on your email list, invite them to sign up and let them decide.

Emily is Viget's people director, hailing from our Durham, NC, office. She specializes in heart-to-hearts and asking questions that don’t have concrete answers.

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