The e-mail marketing problem you never knew you had (and why you can’t fix it)

If you’ve been doing e-mail marketing for more than a week, you know about some of the problems with this exciting new medium.

Lists filled with undeliverable addresses, wildly inconsistent spam filtering rules across e-mail servers, and inconsistent rendering of design by different e-mail readers are some of the most common issues that will plague you.

But there’s one pernicious problem you probably don’t know about. It’s lurking behind every e-mail marketing campaign you launch. And it can cause you enormous grief.

The worst part? You can’t do a darn thing about it.

I’m talking about the system administrators who sit in front of computer screens and make on-the-fly decisions about your e-mail.

The politically correct line is that marketers and Internet tech guys are on the same side, both wanting to block spam and assure the delivery of properly conceived e-mail marketing. The reality is that many system administrators are antagonistic to the commercialization of the Internet. And they’re not at all happy about your using e-mail to sell things.

One such system administrator recently told me, “CAN-SPAM isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. What you have to watch out for are system administrators having a bad week.” In his opinion, ANY e-mail you send that isn’t specifically requested is spam. Period. End of discussion.

That probably strikes you as extreme. But it’s not uncommon. For some, spam has come to mean just about any e-mail that people don’t want, whether the sender follows the rules or not.

Let’s be fair. Spam IS a huge problem. And it’s the system administrators that have the thankless job of dealing with it and trying to protect you from it. They get yelled at if they filter too little and yelled at if they filter too much. The flood of spam is massive and relentless. You can sympathize if they have a “bad week.”

And let’s be even more fair. We all know that a lot of marketers, even otherwise legitimate marketers, are not following the rules. They’re not cleaning lists. They’re not honoring opt-outs. And they’re not considering the long-term consequences of public anger and how that can morph into oppressive legislation.

But the Internet is no longer the commercial-free haven it once was. It’s an exploding new medium for marketers. And there’s no turning back. That’s a fact I’m joyous about because I love the Internet and can see the advantages it provides to direct marketers who are smart enough to embrace it. But it’s a fact that irritates some who see the commercialization of the Internet as the ultimate transgression.

It makes me wonder how much “sabotage” is going on inside e-mail service providers, how many businesses get blacklisted because of one guy’s foul mood, or how filtering rules are “tweaked” to exclude perfectly honest offers because of a romantic vision of the Internet of days gone by.

My advice? I don’t have any. Like I said, there’s nothing you can do about it. But it’s something to think about the next time you launch a big e-mail campaign and experience an odd number of bounces or find yourself blacklisted. Did you do something wrong or is someone having a bad day?

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4 Responses to “The e-mail marketing problem you never knew you had (and why you can’t fix it)”

  1. Ted Grigg on February 26th, 2008 8:10 pm

    The ever increasing amount of spam and malicious code contained in emails continues to weaken the medium almost as fast as it grew.

    As a direct marketer, I look at the weakness of any medium pragmatically.

    Look at the list industry. It continues to challenge even the best compilers and service bureaus in the industry with inaccuracies and trash. But as I tell my clients. “If the list works, then remail to a larger segment and continue to do so until it no longer makes you money. Don’t agonize over its quality.”

    So email marketing is there for all of us to use and sell our products.

    Every medium has it’s strengths and weaknesses.

    Thanks for another great blog.


  2. Janice C Cartier on February 27th, 2008 5:37 pm

    Maybe it’s a Hallmark Day we have overlooked and they’re ticked. Everybody getting cards for this and that, but are we seeing any take your systems administrator to lunch days? I heart my system administrator? “That was a cool annoying spam you caught”…not happening. Such is life.
    Seriously, I did note that one of the top selling points for services like aweber, is that a larger percentage of their mail gets delivered, not filtered.
    I am beginning to think that the most important thing to have is a very good list that is approachable or accessible in several ways, on line and off.
    Good post. Thanks.

  3. mXm on November 3rd, 2008 12:15 am

    Какая прелесть!!!!!!!!!!!!)

  4. Глеб Рубин on May 20th, 2009 1:52 pm

    Это прямо в точку!!! Другими словами и не скажешь! :)

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