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Ken Magill

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Stupid Whole Friggin' Industry Watch: Why do We Bother?


By Ken Magill

Want to know the most ineffective group of people in the history of business writing? Everyone who writes about permission-based email.

We’ve been going over the same crap for more than a decade now and what have we accomplished? Squat.

Internet expert John Levine published a blog post on CircleID recently taking the legitimate email marketing industry to task for its sloppy practices. As an example, he used a marketer that had been hitting the same spam trap—an address that had never been signed up for or responded to anything—for 10 years.

“Oh, bullsh*t, John,” I thought as I read the post. “We’ve got an entire industry pushing for best practices and you’re going to smear us over the actions of a few?”

In response, I was going to write about non-racial prejudice—like the type I experienced years ago as a member of the U.S. military—and how it applies to email marketers: The only time people think of the group is when they see certain members doing stupid things. As a result, they attach the stupid behavior to the whole group.

But before I wrote the rebuttal, I figured I had better ask around a little to see if my theory was right. After all, Levine has forgotten more about the Internet than I’ll ever know.

So I contacted some sources on the front lines of supposedly permission-based email deliverability.

The sources politely informed me that I am in unicorn fairyland on the state of mainstream marketing’s email practices and that Levine’s assessment was dead on target.

One source in particular offered numerous real-world examples to bolster his point in return for my promise I wouldn’t write about them.

In short: We, the fraternal order of email marketing trade writers, suck.

In the more than 10 years we’ve been yapping—apparently mostly to each other—about email marketing best practices we have literally accomplished nothing.

A quick trip over to MainSleaze, a blog aiming to identify mainstream marketers who spam and the ESPs that enable them, further bolsters this point.

We talk targeting. They think tonnage. We talk permission. They think tonnage. We talk personalization. They think tonnage. We talk list hygiene. They think tonnage.

But make no mistake. They’re not stupid. They think tonnage because tonnage is working for them. Likewise, the only way they’re going to stop thinking in terms of tonnage is when the philosophy fails.

But with anti-spam efforts seemingly on the rise, this may be the year that the tonnage email marketing philosophy becomes more of a liability than it’s worth.


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