Email Guiding Principles – Comply or Perish
We need a certification program in this industry. Not necessarily a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to let consumers separate spam from messages from responsible email marketers, but something that functions on a B2B level. Marketers and advertisers need to know who the reputable email marketing companies are, and they need to be assured that names they rent from those companies are what the seller says they are. A good certification program would simply separate the companies who play by the rules from the companies that don’t. Capitalism and Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” can decide the rest.
The key to a successful certification program is constant auditing and checking. Not only should the lists themselves be audited, but audits should also be employed to ensure compliance with the Rules of Engagement we discussed last week. To be initially certified and to retain that certification, email marketing companies should keep violations of the Rules of Engagement to a minimum, as well as keep advertiser expectations in line with what is being offered.
Guiding principles for an email certification program should include:
- Regular audits of lists - Consumer lists should be audited to ensure that the specific demographic or lifestyle/interest being offered to the advertiser is represented. B2B lists should be audited to verify job titles, spending power and any of the other criteria by which we target B2B advertising.
- Adherence to the Rules of Engagement - Each individual on each list should be acquired via a double opt-in procedure that meets specific criteria with regard to permissions granted, especially concerning expected volume of partner email messages and the ability to revoke that permission at will.
- Regular audits of ongoing communication - All commercial email sent to lists covered by the certification program should include introductory language to let recipients know why they are receiving the commercial mailing. Recipients should know who is renting their information to enable a specific mailing, the relationship between the maintainer of the list and the advertising partner, and how they can avoid mailings in the future. Ensuring that this information is always conveyed will require regular audits of commercial mailings to lists.
How do we ensure that commercial email list companies adhere to the certification program? We develop the market so that it reaches its potential from a revenue standpoint. And we make it clear to email companies that adherence to the rules is a prerequisite for operating within the space. Advertisers and agencies should agree to advertise only with certified sellers. Only when legitimate commercial email becomes more profitable than spam can we incentivize email companies to clean up their act.
Of course, there will be people who will claim that there is no way to enforce compliance with a set of email guidelines. I ask those people to look to the magazine industry for proof of concept. Many major advertisers will not advertise in magazines that are not audited. For these advertisers, the risk of advertising in an unaudited book outweighs the potential benefits of advertising in that book. We need to bring about a similar situation in email advertising, or we risk losing its effectiveness as a commercial medium.