We're pals, right?

by Tom Davis

Email Marketing and Personalization

Yesterday I got an email from some sort of investment company. It was obviously a prospecting email sent using some terrible list they acquired. How can I tell? It was not hard, here is the first paragraph of the email:

So let's see... the email was from a company I have never had contact with, they spelled our company name wrong and they are congratulating me for some unknown success. Then they offer me some investment I am not even slightly interested in. By the way, this was from a real company, not a scam from a foreign prince.

I guess I should feel honored to be invited, but the problem is that this is my inbox — and I resent it being used for poorly targeted prospecting. So I clicked the "Spam" button in my Google Apps email account. I could have used the "unsubscribe" link, but I never subscribed to begin with. I wanted to send a harsher message and pressing the "spam" button in an email account hosted by Google, Yahoo, Hotmail or any number of others sends a message back to your email provider that they email in question is spam. This message is usually then transmitted back to the service that sent the email.

If enough recipients tag an email spam your email provider understands that similar emails are likely spam and they will send them directly to every recipient's spam or junk folder. That is the main reason email goes directly into your spam folder. That system saves me from sorting through 1,200 unwanted emails a month in my inbox.

Without defenses in place, email would devolve into the chaos of hundreds of irrelevant emails a day being sent from poorly created lists with little or no targeting. Even with what are described as "targeted lists" there are thousands of companies that want to stretch their target just to see if they can get some leads. There has to be a penalty for off-target emails. Just like cost is a penalty for off-target postal mail.

So how does one prospect using email?

Not easily, not cheaply. Depending on your market there may be effective channels available. But email is best used to nurture relationships rather than prospect for them. When people have invited your emails, they know they are relevant to them to some degree. That is what makes people read and respond to emails.