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Please Stop Crapping on Email Marketers


By Ken Magill

Email consultant Neil Schwartzman had a guest post published on Laura Atkins’ Word to the Wise and Al Iverson’s Spam Resource blogs last week that contained a troubling quote that is indicative of an anti-marketing—or at least marketing-dismissive—sentiment that is still prevalent among too many Internet professionals.

First let me make one thing clear: I know and respect all three of the individuals mentioned above. They are smart, dedicated, level-headed professionals. They’re also genuinely nice humans.

I just happen to disagree with Schwartzman’s opinion on marketing’s evolving role in people’s inboxes.

The post in question took issue with a scheme Other Inbox CEO Joshua Baer has been evangelizing lately to give marketers the ability to put expiration dates on their outbound emails.

According to Baer, his plan would improve people’s email inbox experience by, among other things, eliminating messages that are no longer relevant or useful.

Various experts, including Schwartzman, have made compelling arguments against Baer’s plan.

The gist of Schwartzman’s argument was that “email users’ rights trump everything.”

I don’t know if I buy that assertion in the case of free Web-based email, but that debate is for another day.

The troubling quote in Schwartzman’s post was one reportedly made from a large-ISP representative to a room full of marketers some years back: “On my list of 10 things to do today, you are number 11.”


News flash for Mr. ISP man: The sole reason you have a job is because of marketing and sales. No marketing and sales, no work. Got it?

Marketers enable—translation, pay for—Web based free email. Commercial interests are why the Internet has been developed into the indispensable, high-speed, personal and professional tool it is today.

Hint: Internet innovation isn’t coming out of Cuba and North Korea for a reason.

Moreover, there is evidence that people’s use of their inboxes has evolved to one primarily of a commercial nature.

According to a Microsoft executive at Media Post’s Email Insider Summit last spring, a survey of Hotmail users last year revealed that for the first time, the top three things they use their email accounts for are for commercial purposes.

According to the Microsoft representative—I kept my notes, but failed to write his name on them—respondents said the No. 1 reason they use email is they shop online, No. 2 is for transactional purposes and No. 3 is to communicate with businesses.

The executive told me that, as a result of these revelations, Microsoft was working on innovations to help people manage their commercial relationships.

For further evidence that inbox providers are recognizing the value commercial senders represent to them, consider Yahoo!’s introduction of a new capability that gives senders the ability to include dynamic content in outbound messages:

“Once upon a time, when you sent an email, its content was forever cast in stone. That meant a lost opportunity for senders and frustration for customers receiving your message. Lost opportunity because while your customer is lamenting the fact that they missed the V-day deal, they aren’t opening your Presidents Day message that contains a different discount they can use today. Frustration because the great Valentine’s Day deal email opened on Presidents Day is no longer valid.

“What if the email message you sent could change like the stereoscopic-eyed chameleon? The Valentine’s Day message, if opened after V-day, could show information about a different, still redeemable discount. The one-day restaurant deal, when opened, could automatically let the customer know that the deal is expired and show a currently redeemable deal instead. These emails would be more effective for the sender and much more satisfying for the customer to receive.”

Sounds like commercial mailers are somewhat higher on Yahoo!’s 10-things-to-do list than 11.

I’m not remotely advocating for marketers to gain some dictatorial power over email delivery similar to the one they have with the post office where they pay for services and rightly expect them to be rendered. The ISPs own the pipes. They have every right to decide who can use them.

But dismissing the wants of commercial interests out of hand when they are responsible for what the Internet has become is wildly inappropriate.

The time for treating email marketers like they’re nothing more than a nuisance who should eat every piece of crap fed to them and say “thank you” has long passed.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: a friendly neighborhood filter operator
Date: 2011-03-18 16:43:22

Like ISP abuse desks, my job is to take care of my customers. My customers aren't the people who send mail; they're the people who receive mail. I'm obligated to act in their best interest and what they need comes first. If my customers take up my ten things to do, then yes, a sender is going to fall by the wayside.
Posted by: Dave Hendricks
Date: 2011-03-17 16:15:03
Subject: Real Time, Marketing, etc. - Monetize or Die

@Ken - you are so right. Commercial Email Marketing pays the salaries of ISP people, ESP staff and anyone in this ecosystem. It's a market worth billions in economic activity. It is a source of creative innovation and jobs. It is what is behind the success of Groupon and Living Social. @Georgia - LiveIntent is doing this today. Happy to show you. It is not your grandmother's dynamic content. Josh Baer is right. Messages get stale. Don't waste an open with expired content. @Dave Nelson - I don't fully understand your issue about showing images. Ads placed in trusted newsletters show easily since once you agree to show images once, you show them always. I find it ironic that most consumers accept what we are doing in email but many people in our industry are trying to enforce some kind of protectionist nanny-state. If you don't want to market or commercialize email (i.e. make money through legitimate practices) what happens to our jobs? People like ads. People like ads even more when they are targeted correctly. People like free stuff. Ads subsidize our access to free webmail, etc. Get with the program! Dave
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2011-03-16 08:53:25
Subject: Oh, and

Who says I can't do both?
Posted by: Georgia Christian
Date: 2011-03-16 06:08:23
Subject: Bring on time sensitive emails!

Great post as always Ken. It would be great if this year we saw further developments in terms of real time email marketing and especially time sensitive messages. It has the potential to redefine email marketing as we know it.
Posted by: someone posting under the name J.D.
Date: 2011-03-15 20:19:51
Subject: oh, and is a good reminder that most email marketers don't know much about email marketing. Those are the people who call ISPs the most. Instead of defending them, how 'bout educating them?
Posted by: someone posting under the name J.D.
Date: 2011-03-15 20:11:37
Subject: a common (and dangerous) fallacy

You're entirely correct that the commercialization of the internet has led to the growth of ISPs and thus the employment of ISP staff. What you're forgetting is that the email marketers who try to call ISP staff to complain about delivery issues do not contribute to the bottom line of the ISP. They, like the email service in general, are a cost -- nothing more. And that all assumes that anti-spam staff are even aware of who buys ads on the ISP's web site, or other contributions -- which is almost never the case.
Posted by: dave nelson
Date: 2011-03-15 15:41:18
Subject: Time-based emails

Great post! Some email marketers are already sending emails that "change" over time by updating the images that are served-up at the point of opening. I'm not an advocate of that since I don't fully trust that the recipient will actually opt to view their images. Also, it's funny that your very correct argument about marketers paying for what everyone else sees as a "free" email service is just slightly different words to the same tune that the direct mailers have been humming for years. Take away the Direct Mailers and the postage rate would be several dollars instead of the (still cheap) $.44. I've often thought that a very modest "postage" for marketing emails would actually help by forcing emailers such as myself to better target their own lists and, if done correctly, force the bulk of spammers out of business.