It occurred to me recently that we do not give spammers (and in their turn ISPs) enough credit for helping to make email a long-term, credible media.

How so?

Well frankly, the threat of being blocked by ISPs for sending out hundreds or thousands of the same copy and creative is prodding marketers into action.

There is nothing like a fall in revenues to provoke a reaction, and ultimately that is what being blocked by spam filters equates to.

Email is cheap and getting cheaper. In fact, in the grand scheme of things the cost of delivering email is negligible.

This is a great paradox, because email is not only a two-way customer communication channel and potentially one of the most flexible, it is also among the cheapest.

And this is, of course, its Achilles Heel. Its inexpensiveness has led it to be abused by marketers that send the same message to their whole customer base, just because they can. Sad.

However, saviour comes in a strange guise. In the war against spam, the ISPs and many others initially branded all bulkmailing as ‘spam’. 

Three or four years ago I was myself against this and saw it, in its own way, as an anachronism in the new age of the commercial internet.

But I have changed my mind completely, come full circle in my thinking and performed a total volte-face!

Block all bulk email, I say! I am now of the opinion that spam is the single most useful weapon we have that will drive marketers to keep emails relevant, the interests of the customer at heart and the media alive.

ISPs are now employing reputation strategies to weed spam from legitimate mail, and to ensure that emails are delivered, organisations must follow some of the more basic rules of direct marketing.

Indeed, this demands of marketers that they email responsibly.

For instance, mailing a single creative to 1m customers will lead to a very high chance of getting blocked, because funnily enough, that is what the spammers do!

Furthermore, how relevant can you be if you send 1m customers the same email, offer, creative et al? One could easily argue ‘not at all’.

And if you are not being relevant, you will annoy customers, which could lead to complaints.

Remember, 'spam' is now defined as irrelevant email, so to avoid this very obvious trap, segmentation MUST be applied.

But as argued elsewhere on this blog, by Mat Finch in particular, targeting and segmentation do not have to be complicated.

Sadly, there are still organisations that think: “Isn’t email cheap!… Then it doesn’t matter about conversion rates, just send more”.

But these days are, thankfully, drawing to a close, and in an odd way I think we have spammers and ISPs to thank for this.

Matthew Kelleher is commercial director at RedEye .

Matthew Kelleher

Published 4 February, 2008 by Matthew Kelleher

Matthew Kelleher is commercial director as RedEye and a contributor to Econsultancy.

27 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (5)



regarding the comment
" how relevant can you be if you send 1m customers the same email, offer, creative et al?"

If you block based on this rule, then won't large legitimate senders get blocked - when they send 'general' notifications?
Examples: email from govenment in response to voters on
Notifications from BT, Utility companies, Banks and other financial institutions, Oxfam and other large charities etc ...

over 10 years ago



One element of reputation is the response of the email, so the legitimate mailers who send the 1m general notifications like 'your statement is ready' will get a higher response rate as people are expecting this communication. Charities sending an emergency mailing will also get a good response as its current and relevant.

So in response to

"Furthermore, how relevant can you be if you send 1m customers the same email, offer, creative et al? One could easily argue ‘not at all’. "

The statement still holds true, as an untargeted non relevant communication can fall into the spam tag and 1m segmented relevant emails have a better chance of successful delivery 'into the inbox'.

over 10 years ago



I love the title: Relevance - the silver lining of the spam cloud

over 10 years ago



It's always been a mystery to me as to why the bulk of the online marketing spend tends to go to online ads and SEO/SEM, when email is proven to be a much more effective and profitable tactic.

As you say, probably because it's virtually free, many companies feel they shouldn't have to spend anymore money on it.

When in fact, investing a little more effort in segmentation, targeting, better crafted emails etc would probably result in even better results.

over 10 years ago


mike ashworth

Very apt message re segmentation and avoiding the blanket communication that many often do.

I tell many people, whom I receive such emails from, that they risk not being able to send any at all in the future. they dont understand, so I explain.

With a web based email account and the ability to click on either "junk" or worse "phishing" scam it is possible that if many are identified this could lead to their IP address being added to databases of blacklists etc., which the ISP use to prevent such stuff getting through in future. And for those with email clients you change your your filter rules and its straight to junk for them also.

And still they don't get it.

Mike Ashworth
Business and Marketing coach
Brighton and Hove, UK

over 10 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.