Bogus marketing – unsubscribe or spam?
If your email is remotely like mine then you usually awake to a stream of ‘stuff’ that has little or only tangental relevance to what you do. Of course this is all your own fault because at some point in the dim and distant past, you subscribed to some email list and are now reaping the whirlwind. Except that isn’t always the case.
Last week for example I found my email being carpet bombed with stuff that not only was unrelated to my activities but so far out of whack as to be borderline weird. Examples: do I really need to know about new diapers? How about Social DJ Apps or a study of first time parents? The list goes on. It turns out that Vocus sells my email address (and probably yours) to anyone who wants it.
The company claims to offer ‘advanced PR‘ which of course includes a media database. On the ‘journalist’ side of its activities it soothingly reassures us that:
Vocus does not sell or rent email lists nor does Vocus email press releases for customers.
I’m not buying that because it admits to owning a media database. It also owns PR Web, which is a PR distribution service. In addition the number of emails I received over a concentrated period of time cannot be a coincidence unless there is a tie up with list builders elsewhere that I am not seeing. Finally – and this took a bit of digging – they manage the unsubscribe function. So whatever their initial claims and however they may be justifying them, they are bogus in my eyes.
The company claims that – and you’ll love this:
We at Vocus actively and strongly discourage our clients from sending pitches and press releases to journalists, reporters or bloggers without first researching to ensure the topic is relevant for the recipient.
It’s all very reassuring but doesn’t work in practice.
Vocus also claims to be a pioneer in ‘opt out’ – again all very reassuring but then why should I opt out to something I didn’t opt into in the first place. The problem is that opt in isn’t a legal requirements while honoring opt out is in the US under the CAN-SPAM Act
After several days of contually unsubscribing from crap, I found the true culprit and contacted them saying:
Despite what you say, your clients REGULARLY send me stuff that is not remotely close to my topics of interest. I keep opting out but the crap keeps coming. In reality, opting out is a very poor way of approaching this issue because all the work is at my end not your lazy clients who carpet bomb people like me. Now please – remove me permanently from your database and instruct your clients NOT to contact me. The alternative is that not only do I opt out but I also treat their emails as spam and report them as spamming me.
And here’s where it gets really interesting. Rather than acknowledging that I am correct in assuming they do maintain a database they simply said I would be removed but it might take a day or so to percolate through.
This experience got me thinking. Should I now treat all the stuff that comes in that I don’t want as spam or unsubscribe? In truth, much of what I have been receiving has been as a result of subscribing to various interest lists so the sensible thing to do is unsubscribe. But in many cases, it turns out to be a much more tortuous business than you’d expect. Most often I see screens like this:
You can’t blame the marketers for trying to hang onto my email address but it strikes me as odd that they should approach the issue in this way.
Very often I’ll be asked why I am unsubscribing. I’m not sure why because both recent and past experience suggests that email marketers are very poor at undertaking the kind of research necessary to understand where my interests lays. Maybe it is because so few people actually provide feedback. But then when they get it they don’t seem to know what the next step should be. Here’s an example:
Sites like TripAdvisor and even LinkedIn are now regularly sending me email which I don’t recall asking for in the first place. LinkedIn in particular is using the content that people I am connected to as the lead in to tell me about all sorts of stuff they think I might be interested in. The problem is that I don’t want stuff pushed to me on a daily basis. I want stuff when I need it. The rest is often just a huge distraction where even the most judicious use of folder organizing struggles to keep up.
Reboot email marketing?
Like many others, I am fatigued by the amount of ‘stuff’ coming at me. This week has been a cleansing experience as I unsubscribe to everything that I rarely or never look at rather than simply hit the delete button only to be faced with the same problem every day. It’s a discipline I should have exercised many moons ago.
I do however think that business needs to rethink email marketing and contextual advertising. I’m just not sure how it goes about this topic. A good start might be to get better at understanding needs and wants. This is hard stuff but I dread to think the amount of energy being consumed delivering crap around the planet.
One thought – perhaps email marketers might like to think about who is clicking on their material. Look at the frequency of click through for example and then ask the non-clickers whether they still want to receive material but do it in a way that elicits a response.
Perhaps marketers could think more about paying for results rather than the scattergun pay for clicks or pay for landing on a page. The problem with those alternatives is that it becomes increasingly difficult to reward clicks when the potential buyer is in ‘curious’ mode.
The social dimension
None of this is made easier by the addition of social streams but it is interesting to note that a recent CMO survey showed:
Almost half (49%) said they aren’t able to quantify whether social media has made a difference for their companies, while 36% said they had a good sense of qualitative – though not quantitative – results. Only a meager 15% said they’ve seen a proven quantitative impact. Not surprisingly, in a Big Data-driven era, that lack of clarity is coming under increased scrutiny; 66% of respondents say their boards and CEOs are tightening pressure to measure ROI.
That doesn’t surprise and especially so when I had to giggle at this one on Facebook.
The irony is not lost on me but it is still intrusive and irrelevant to someone who already wears corrective eyewear.
Ten plus years on from when the CAN-SPAM Act came into view, we still don’t have a good way of providing people with the information they may need. Tastes and interests change, yet there seems to be no proactive mechanism in place to understand what individuals or groups with close ties find appropriate at any given point in time.
The social element only seems to make the situation worse rather than better.
We are working on ways to solve this internally because the one thing that terrifies me is repeating the mistakes of the past. How well we do remains to be seen but we don’t believe there is any current substitute for the painstaking and expensive work needed to truly understand people’s needs. The rest is little better than a crude blunderbuss shot down a dark alley.
Featured image: © heywoody – Fotolia.com
@_StuartLynn and a pox on all their houses no less ;)
I never used to bother reporting as spam because for me it was quicker and easier just to delete the messages. of course that's "quicker and easier" in the short term. It doesn't stop the stuff turning up and you having to delete it again. Just last week I changed my approach and starting clicking on the "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of each of these messages. Yes, it can be a painful process, and certainly takes much longer than just deleting it. I have been surprised at how many of these unsubscription processes say it can take "up to 28 days" to process. What? 28 days? Which century is this again?
However, after just a week or so of doing this, my mailbox feels less busy already. I think I'm going to stick with it and see how much of this stuff I can really get rid of.
Mostly, these days, I report spam - but only in Google. Is it just me are my options in Outlook limited to Junk Mail? I am getting "spammed" in multiple places.
Overall e-mail marketing still works, as many are not using social media - just my take.
Sad news for those sending me spam - it is a real turn off and if I didn't subscribe to your e-mail and you got it from someone else - I am totally not interested in your e-mail at all.
Opting in is not technically a legal requirement, but it is indirectly a requirement since it is illegal to harvest email addresses. If you're purchasing a list of harvested email addresses then you may be violating the law. There are only two ways of obtaining an email address, either someone opts in, or it was harvested.
@Ken Magill Thanks Ken, I wasn't clear enough. Fixed.
@steverumsby Steve - yes - exactly. I have been on a real purge this week and you're right, it makes a huge dent in the time sinkhole aka email curation. Of course the flipside is dealing with the emotional detachment of all that unwanted attention ;)
@tpowlas It's a pretty grim outlook (sic) I'm afraid Tammy. So little has changed I have to wonder what people are thinking.
@Christian Dean Harvesting email addresses is certainly not illegal under Can Spam. It is an aggravating factor if you get busted under one of its other provisions. You're not alone in your perception however. A lot of people think harvesting is illegal. And while it probably should be, it's not.
@Christian Dean Interesting ... and kind of sad that I am so familiar with Can-Spam minutia:)
Thanks for sharing. I went back and read that portion of the CAN-SPAM act and you are absolutely correct. Very interesting.