What Would Stefan Say?
As many of you know by now, Stefan Pollard, one of the email marketing industry's most beloved figures, died recently.
Many people throughout the email industry mourn his loss: clients and co-workers both past and present, those who heard him speak at industry events such as MediaPost's Email Insider Summits and debate permission practices during the social events, or knew him only through his contributions to trade publications.
I got to know Stefan when I hired him at EmailLabs (now Lyris, Inc.). We worked together for two years before moving on to other employers.
Stefan quickly took on speaking opportunities and newsletter and industry columns, where his trademark combination of insider knowledge and no-excuses pragmatism helped him become the industry's guiding conscience.
He was neither a self-promoter nor a perpetual scold. His commentaries avoided the hype, misguided proclamations and "the-sky-is-falling" predictions that so many so-called industry pundits rely on to get noticed.
Instead, Stefan offered stellar guidance that both acknowledged the challenges marketers face from management and subscriber expectations and ISP realities -- and also expected marketers to step up to these challenges, not to take the easy or expedient way out.
Even though we were friends at and away from the office and industry events, Stefan and I didn't always agree. But our differences were more a matter of timing or degree, never direction or philosophy.
In His Own Words
The best tribute I can give Stefan is to let his words speak for themselves. Following is a sampling of Stefan's views on some frequently debated topics that raged in various industry forums:
Location of the unsubscribe link: "Placing the [unsubscribe] link at the top [of an email message] is usually a 'tactic' meant to be used for a short period of time to reduce spam complaints, and is one I often recommend.
"In general, I don't advise clients to place it permanently at the top of the message for a silly reason... We've trained most subscribers to go to the bottom of the message to look for the unsubscribe link. ...
"The only 'agreed upon' practice is make it clear and easy for your subscribers to do what they want. No hoops, no mouse-type, no logins. If you don't make it easy, they have other options and those often cause you more problems in the long run."
Reading Email on mobile devices: "I hope we all take a second to remember we are not the average email readers. We are email fanatics, and any examples of what we can and sometimes do with our email don't generally match the experiences of the average email reader.
"Great design means more than a compelling message, it means providing choice and being flexible enough to get your message across, whether I give you 2 seconds or 2 minutes."
Cross-promotion across sister brands: "No, I don't believe it is OK to share consumer information across brands, nor do I expect consumers to understand all the holdings of a parent company and expect dealing with one means dealing with all.
"If [the message is] going to be certified as trusted email, and that trust is not represented by permission-based practices, then the goal of trust has not been met, and email will continue to deal with the negative perceptions it is often associated with."
Using CAPTCHA in the unsubscribe process: "It should never be a question of legality, it should be a question of value and user experience. The fact is subscribers have options, some that impact your ability to send to other subscribers who are happy and customers of yours.
"Tactics like CAPTCHAs, required logins, complicated processes to request removal.... All for the "benefit" of making sure the subscriber really meant they wanted to stop your email. [These] are the reasons the report-spam button was created. Make it simple, make it clear, let them go."
The Delicate Balance of Customers and Commerce
Some email-industry discussions over best practices have come to reflect the overheated rhetoric that characterizes modern political debate.
On one side are the marketers who tout their free-market, free-speech rights to communicate to customers and prospects alike however they want.
On the other are the customer-focused best-practice advocates who maintain that "doing the right thing" trumps minimalist legislation like CAN-SPAM.
Stefan was one of the few who understood the need to balance the customer's role as the ultimate arbiter of email relevance with a company's legitimate need to make money.
I already deeply miss his friendship and his professional expertise. At various times when I was wrestling with best practices debates, I would run my thinking through the "Stefan filter." While Stefan is no longer with us, I hope the spirit of his pragmatism will live on for years to come.
What would Stefan say?
Note: Stefan is survived by his wife, Susan, and two children, Nicholas and Lauren. Stefan's employer, Responsys, has established the Pollard Memorial Fund to benefit his children's education, with contributions accepted through PayPal. If you would like to donate, log into your account, click the "Send Money" tab, and send contributions to this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.