Responsible Email Marketing

by Heather Maloney, Managing Director of Contact Point IT Services Pty Ltd.  Originally published in 2006; edited in 2011.


Why be responsible with your email marketing?  Here's 3 very good reasons (my 3 Rs):

  1. Reputation - keep it intact.  Losing it is a lot quicker and easier than building a good reputation.
  2. Relationships - improve your client and customer relationships (rather than harming them).
  3. Results - people will notice your behaviour, and it will impact on the results of your campaign (whether that's sales, referrals, etc).  It will also help you avoid hefty fines for breaching Spam Act legislation.


Through my experience as designer and creator of eNudge® - an online email and SMS marketing solution tailored to the Australian market - I believe that responsible email marketing consists of the following:

1.  Subscribers - only email those people who have subscribed to receive your emails, or where you can justifiably demonstrate that their consent to receive your emails has been implied. So what is justifiable? Here are a couple of examples:

  • You have a bowl in your premises asking people to drop in their business card to win a prize, and you have a notice on the bowl that email addresses will be added to your mailing list to receive information from your business.
  • As part of the process of selling a product or service to a person, the customer supplies their email address. 

However, the following are examples of where I believe you cannot imply consent:

  • NOT when you obtain an email address during an exchange of business cards at a networking event.  If you intend to add the person to your mailing list when you get back to the office, then ASK the person if you can do that first - 9 times out of 10 people will say yes when asked.
  • NOT because a visitor to your website filled in a form in order to obtain free information.  As a bare minimum you need to tell the person completing the form that will happen.  Best practice is to allow the visitor to opt in to your mailing list by ticking a box.

Doing either of the above is the fastest way I know to damage your reputation and reduce the effectiveness of your email marketing!  And again, you run the risk of breaching Spam Act legislation, which attracts hefty fines. 

Speaking of the Spam Act legislation, you need to be aware that the onus of proof with regard to whether a person has subscribed to your mailing list or not is on you, the mailing list owner.  Read more about the requirements of the Australian Spam Act 2003.

2.  Relevance - only send out information that is relevant to the recipient and associated with the purpose for which you received the email address.  For example, if you gathered the email address in response to selling a motor vehicle to a customer, then sending that customer an email about a business opportunity would be inappropriate (and may also get you in trouble with the Spam Act).  However, sending an email about vehicle accessories, servicing, road-side assistance and new vehicles would probably be relevant. 

3.  Volume - I recently ordered self-address label printing from an online printer.  After receiving the printed material, I then began receiving approximately one email per day from the online printer regarding some deal or other, or requesting that I complete a survey.  The constant emails quickly became very annoying, and with each email I became:
1) less likely to recommend the company to anyone else, despite the fact that their service was very good and inexpensive, and
2) less likely to order from the company again, and more likely to ask to be removed from their email list.

The lesson here is: keep the number of emails you send to your contacts to a reasonable volume!  You need to discover what is reasonable for your target audience by asking them.

4.  Attachments - keep them small in size; I recommend no larger than 500KB. You can't assume that everyone has broadband and therefore can download emails quickly.  Nor can you assume that everyone checks their email everyday and wont run the risk of exceeding their mailbox size limit.

5.  Unsubscribe - always give the recipient the opportunity to unsubscribe from your emails, and make it easy.  To make this easy for yourself you should use an unsubscribe service, which will also ensure that you don't accidentally send a later email to that address. The only time you may send another email would be to confirm that you have in fact removed the recipient from your list, and to ask for feedback as to why they wish to be removed (though it's better to get this as they unsubscribe).

6.  Business or Pleasure - try to only send business information to business email addresses, and only send personal information to personal addresses.  In this way, a person will consider their personal email most likely when they are at home outside of working hours and will have the time and inclination to focus on it.  On the other hand, they will receive their business related email at work, rather than during the personal time.  If at all possible, when you collect an email address find out whether it is a personal or business address, and try to obtain both types of email addresses.  If one of the email addresses bounces (i.e. the email cannot be delivered, perhaps a person has moved employment), having an alternative email address can be helpful.

7.  Bouncing - don't continue to send emails to addresses that have previously bounced; doing this will increase the likelihood that your emails are flagged as spam by the spam filters in between you and your contacts.

8.  Email Format - give recipients the choice of receiving text only emails (as opposed to HTML format), and then only send the format that they choose.  The recipients who only want text emails (for security or other reasons) will be very grateful.

Much of the characteristics of responsible email marketing described above are actually embodied in spam legislation. Spam legislation also applies to SMS and other electronic messages.  It is no longer a matter of just being considerate and maintaining your reputation, but also a matter of law.

If you need help implementing some of the characteristics described above, you may need a tool such as eNudge® which allows you to easily manage bounced emails, unsubscribe, and email formats.

Copyright Contact Point IT Services. Publication or use of this article on or off-line, without prior written permission from the author, is prohibited. If you would like to use this article on your Web site or in your publication, please contact me with details of your desired use.