When is spam not spam?

“I get more spam than anyone I know.” – Bill Gates


Clearly we’re not talking tinned meat here!  Spam emails are a pain in the neck – they fill up inboxes, waste time, overrun servers and irritate the recipients.

No one wants to receive spam emails and none of us admit to opening them.  But what if you were in the market to purchase a new computer and you ‘happened’ to receive an interesting email from a local computer shop reviewing the current batch of mid-priced laptops – perhaps that wouldn’t be seen as spam?  Read on …

What actually is a spam email?

So – according to Google, the definition of spam is, “irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, typically to a large number of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.”.  To add detail to this:

Sales message / sales language – emails that contain the words ‘latest offer’, ‘special deal’, ‘price crash’, etc. all offend the majority of recipients and immediately push most of us towards the delete button!

Untargeted – spam emails are often sent to massive lists of recipients working on the basis of a very low uptake, they’re impersonal and clearly not targeted to a likely prospect.

Untimely / Too Frequent – spammers simply don’t care and will continue to blast you mercilessly to try to persuade you to take action.

Unsolicited – the sender is unknown to you, you’ve not signed up to receive their emails and you don’t know why they’ve sent this message to you.

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And what’s all this Phishing I keep hearing about?

Simply put, a phishing email attempts to trick you into clicking on links or to open attached files – with the goal to then trick you into revealing your personal information, usernames, passwords, bank details, credit card numbers, etc.

You should only ever click on links or open file attachments when you trust the sender and believe that they genuinely sent it.  Be especially aware when it looks like it’s been sent from a bank, your bank or HMRC – they rarely send links or files by email because of phishing spammers copying them!

What is difference between email marketing and spam?

Email marketing is the sending of an email where you’re targeting it to genuinely interested recipients.  For a business, ‘proper’ email marketing is harder to do and takes time and effort but is definitely worthwhile if done correctly:

Smaller batches of more personalised or targeted information means the recipient is more likely to appreciate the message and take action.

Focussed message to relevant audience – in the current climate of GDPR, one area that is still in debate is the justification of ‘legitimate interest’ … in other words, I’m sending this message to you because I legitimately think that it will be of interest to you.  Clearly, to argue this successfully, your email must be of interest, probably educational (rather than salesy) and you need to be cautious of using this to blast large numbers of recipients! There’s a good article and checklist on ‘legitimate interest’ that can be found here: https://dma.org.uk/article/legitimately-using-legitimate-interests-new-guidance

Best practice to ensure your emails are not viewed as spam

  • Never deceive the recipient (using false ‘from’, ‘reply-to’ or silly subject lines)
  • Always provide an unsubscribe link – using professional email marketing software (such as MailChimp) will force this regardless
  • Include your business address and contact details to allow recipients to contact you if they wish
  • Ideally, personalise your message to the recipient.  Again, this is easy to do with professional email marketing software.
  • Keep things clean and clear – clear message, clear information, simple design, tested on different systems and software for layout
  • Be consistent with your brand, your message and what your prospects want to hear
  • Never use foul, rude or offensive language
  • Don’t buy cheap marketing lists – there’s definitely no ‘legitimate interest’ argument here!

Sending email messages is a legitimate marketing activity but when do you cross the line from email marketing to sending spam?  Seek expert help from professional marketing companies that can help you achieve the balance as part of a wider marketing campaign.

Blunt thinking on spam from Yorkshire Powerhouse
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