Direct email marketing is a format for email-based campaigns in which standalone advertisements are sent to a targeted list of recipients.

Direct email marketing is a format for email-based campaigns in which standalone advertisements are sent to a targeted list of recipients. The messages, which may be text, HTML or rich media, look like Web-based ads rather than typical email messages. A number of elements make direct email marketing different from spam.

From the sender’s perspective, spam is an extremely efficient and cost-effective way to distribute a message, but to most recipients, spam is just junk email. Recipients sometimes fail to differentiate between spam and legitimate email marketing campaigns, but there are clear differences. The essential elements of a legitimate email marketing campaign are:

  • red-arrow It’s permission-based: messages are sent to people that have expressed interest in receiving such mailings.
  • red-arrow Typically, messages are sent to a smaller, targeted group of recipients.

Although most spam is unsolicited commercial email (UCE), the term also encompasses other types of mass mailings, such as email chain letters, personal campaign mailings, messages with virus-laden attachments, and messages containing virus hoaxes, among other possibilities.
People are becoming increasingly unlikely to open messages they haven’t agreed to receive. Furthermore, the overwhelming volume of spam in people’s inboxes makes them much less likely to open anything that isn’t a personal message from someone they know. Because the number of messages is often so great, many just routinely delete all messages that aren’t of a personal nature, whether or not they’ve expressed an interest in receiving messages from some of the senders. They might also add criteria to make their spam filters more stringent, which makes the programs more likely to flag legitimate mail as spam. Frequently, people maintain “throwaway” email accounts specifically for any mail generated by an online sign-up.

The legitimate marketer should be at the forefront of the anti-spam movement. While spam is an annoyance to most recipients, it’s a real threat to the livelihood of anyone who depends on email marketing. It also means that legitimate marketers must, at all costs, behave in a manner that differentiates them from spammers. After all, annoying people has never been the key to long-term, sustainable success in the marketplace.

Here’s a checklist for email marketing best practices:

  • red-arrow In a word: opt-in — why bother sending messages to people who aren’t interested in receiving them?
  • red-arrow Limit the frequency of mailings.
  • red-arrow Don’t pester recipients — tell people how often you intend to send them messages, and don’t send them more frequently.
  • red-arrow Another important word: content — try to engage the reader with interesting and informative messages. Make the reader look forward to your email!
  • red-arrow Include your physical address in your messages.
  • red-arrow Include a working mechanism for recipients to easily remove themselves from your mailing list.
  • red-arrow Welcome feedback on your messages, and use it to improve future mailings.
  • red-arrow Ensure that your messages are sent to the right demographic groups. One of the things that makes spam such a laughing stock is its inappropriate nature. For example, most 80-year-old nuns are not likely to be interested in Viagra, but they might get messages offering it just the same.