3 Near-Death Experiences for Email Marketing
Those were tough times, with some predicting the imminent demise of email marketing. But email marketing did survive thanks to an uneasy truce with the ISPs based on promised industry reforms and the advent of the spam button and other techniques for coping with spam. Email marketers grew from that painful experience in important ways.
First and foremost was a shift in philosophy amongst legitimate email marketers. They began to realize that customers were behind their email addresses, their marketing practices mattered and email addresses weren’t an inexhaustible resource after all.
Second, marketers came to recognize it wasn’t about “fire and forget.” They really did need to know what happened to what they sent. They needed to capture and apply email disposition data to measure success and improve list management and marketing practices. This was the beginning of true results-based metrics and reporting and an industrywide focus on deliverability. Third, the industry began to seriously examine the systemic problem of email accountability, namely identity and reputation, to differentiate the good players from the bad. This was the time of Project Lumos and the birth of authentication protocols. Lastly, the ISPs began to recognize the existence of “false positives” and the notion that legitimate email shouldn’t suffer that fate.
Experience No. 2: Near Death by a Thousand Cuts
A little over a year after the 2002 holiday season uproar, the atmosphere had become supercharged with consumers protesting loudly about spam overrunning their inboxes. With state legislators responding to their constituents with progressively more draconian anti-spam regulations and California on the verge of imposing the most far reaching of all, the clock was ticking on email marketing. Its future looked particularly bleak. The email industry literally faced a death by a thousand cuts as conflicting state regulations were converting a universal medium into a balkanized one. At the 11th hour, President Bush signed the CAN-SPAM Act on Dec. 16, 2003, saving email marketing from its second brush with death.
While some will argue to this day that CAN-SPAM was an ineffectual law, I prefer to focus on its positives. Aside from saving email marketers from a fate probably worse than outright death, that is, an over-regulated business with more restrictions than opportunities, CAN-SPAM clearly defined what was legal and what wasn't. It gave email marketers the tools and authority of the federal government to prosecute those who didn’t comply.
In addition, CAN-SPAM accelerated the mind shift for legitimate email marketers that had begun with their first near-death experience. It didn’t take them long to recognize that compliance with CAN-SPAM was no guarantee of acceptance by the ISPs. What was legal wasn’t the same as best practices. With deliverability and response metrics as their guide, email marketers began to seriously focus on email best practices — a trend that continues to this day and one that’s benefited all stakeholders and contributed greatly to the health and vitality of the email ecosystem.
Experience No. 3: Near Death by Stealth Intruder
Today’s threat to email marketing comes from a stealthier, more sophisticated cyber criminal, the spear phisher. To be sure, the assault on ISPs continues unabated. But now facing hardened defenses, the bad players have turned their sights on a “softer” target — you. While Epsilon and Sony have been their most celebrated victims, make no mistake that many other service providers, industry suppliers and enterprises have been compromised too. This has been dubbed “The Year of the Breach” for good reason.
As with your first two near-death experiences, it’s the unsavory elements of email marketing that are behind this threat — the malicious actors who pollute your medium with spam, viruses and malware and use spoofing and other illicit tactics to prey on unsuspecting victims. This element has been with you forever. The sales and marketing profession has always had sleazy players motivated by the prospect of easy money, from the days of unscrupulous door-to-door salesman who tagged the picket fence of a good mark to the junk mail and phone scams of an earlier generation. The difference now is that the picket fence is virtual and millions of potential marks can be reached with frauds perpetrated in real time by a simple click. And to add to your troubles, the consequences are far more pervasive.
The new breed of attack instigated by spear phishers represents your third near-death experience. I’d argue further that of the experiences you’ve faced down to date, this one is the most challenging and dangerous to your survival.
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