Last week I commented on negative branding in email. One of the comments on that post was an advertisement for a company called WrapMail. In the course of attempting to determine if this was spam or a real comment, I checked out their website. While the comment itself may not be spam, and it may not be providing services to spammers, the entire business model strikes me as a delivery nightmare.
Briefly, once you sign up with this company, you set your mail client to use their SMTP server. As all of your mail goes through their server is it “wrapped” with a HTML template of your choosing. All of your email is now branded with that template, allowing you to formally advertise your business even during the course of standard business communications.
There are multiple ways this can negatively impact a specific brand.
- Sending a branded email to someone is like going to their house to sell them something. Sure, they might be polite to you and not throw you out on your ear, but they’re going to think about inviting you over again. Email senders should always be cognizant of intruding on their recipients.
- People hit the “this is spam” button for a lot of reasons, including they don’t like how an email looks. Shiny, branded emails may be good for a first contact, but recipients may get tired of the clutter during ongoing discussions and communications.
- The company provides identical templates for various franchises. This means that mail from different franchise owners will look very similar to each other. This may cause recipient confusion when they try to remember if they opted out of a specific email. If they think they did, or they opted out of someone else’s wrapped email, they may resort to hitting “this is spam” instead of didn’t I opt out of this?
Overall, I think this type of aggressive branding can work, but has enough challenges and pitfalls that without a clear plan for use it, this may end up being just the kind of negative branding Seth Godin was talking about last week
There are also a number of delivery concerns involved.
- WrapMail users are all sharing a smarthost. This means that if one over aggressive user decides to send mail to their entire address book, or to that list of qualified leads they purchased for $99.99, then that negative reputation is going to spill over onto the mail of other WrapMail users. One or two bad customers is going to hurt all customers.
- Even if every WrapMail user is only uses this for personal email, and never sends bulk or unwanted mail the reputation of the smarthost may be compromised. Some viruses are stealing credentials and sending mail out through smarthosts. One WrapMail user missing one critical virus update can get the smarthost IP blocked on public lists and cause major delivery problems for all their users.
- Because of the shared smarthost, WrapMail users cannot sign up for whitelists or feedback loops. While these are not always useful or necessary for corporate mail servers, they can be helpful. Particularly in this case where visual markers in the mail may confuse some recipients into thinking this is some sort of bulk mail.
- Each WrapMail user will need to understand the implications of wrapping email with advertising. CAN SPAM applies to commercial email whose primary purpose is advertising or promoting a commercial product or service. Wrapping advertising around an email may turn a normal business email into an advertising email and thus subject to the limits applied by CAN SPAM.
Overall, I think this may be a tricky business model for WrapMail to succeed with. The underlying premise is actually quite good: one to one email tends to be much more relevant to individual end users. Why not add some advertising to those highly relevant and wanted emails? This is exactly the type of mail companies should send.
It remains to be seen if WrapMail can manage their customers in a way that minimizes abuse and maximizes delivery. In an ideal world, there would be no delivery problems from this type of setup. The world of email marketing is less than ideal.