A few weeks ago someone commented on a previous post of mine about list purchasing saying that at some point senders should be able to trade and sell email lists like they trade and sell direct mail lists. As much as marketers may not like this, email is never going to be the free for all that direct mail is and they’re never going to have the ability to trade email addresses the way they do physical addresses.
I don’t think this “marketing opportunity” is going to be realized for two major reasons. One, marketing is intrusive and people are more resistant to intrusions in their email boxes than intrusions in other places. Two, marketers own many of the channels used for marketing, but they don’t own email.
Billboards, commercials, flyers dropped in the driveway, garbage in the mailbox, door-to-door salespeople, telemarketers interrupting dinner, pop-up ads that cover up the content on the website. All of these push marketing into the daily lives of people. Marketers set out to intrude and interrupt their targets. The interruptions often generate frustration and anger. Marketers also make it difficult, if not impossible, to opt-out of the marketing. “Put me on your do not call list” doesn’t always work. Requesting to be removed from a catalog list rarely works. The only way to avoid pop-ups is to avoid those websites that serve them. Door to door sales people just keep coming and each one is sure the “no soliciting” sign is not directed at them.
Marketers have created an over-saturation of marketing. People are frustrated and exasperated by the interruptions. Many feel powerless in the face of so many intrusions.
Email marketing is, in many ways, the ultimate in intrusive and interruptive marketing. The marketer can send email whenever they want and it waits to interrupt the recipient. Combine this with how people use email and it is a recipe for recipients being intolerant of unasked for email marketing.
Email is, at its heart, a way for people to communicate with one another. It is a more immediate and personal way of communicating than writing letters to each other. Email is closer to a replacement for phones than it is for a replacement of snail mail. People started seeing their inbox as a way to have close to real-time conversations. Marketing email, particularly unasked for marketing email, is often seen as an interruption of the conversation. Unasked for marketing email is much closer to a telemarketers calling during dinner than it is to receiving an unsolicited credit card offer in a mailbox.
People don’t really like unasked for marketing emails, many of them refer to such emails as spam.
People feel a lot of ownership over their inbox. This ownership results in loud calls to their ISPs to stop the spam. The ISPs have responded by providing more and more controls over who can intrude in any one users inbox. The end result is that end users have more control in this medium than they have in other types of intrusive and interruptive marketing. As long as the power is in the recipients hands, marketers will find it difficult to trade addresses around like they do for snail mail.
This individual control directs the actions of the ISPs. If enough customers tell an ISP that a particular sender is sending spam, then the ISP will block that mail. The ISPs are gatekeepers protecting their customers from spam. The power of one person blocking a single mail is multiplied when thousands of people block the same mail. Eventually, the ISP will stop the mail from getting to the users.
ISP customers have said, loud and clear, we do not like spam. ISPs responded by blocking spam, instituting lawsuits against spammers and promoting laws that make some types of spam illegal. Until the business model of ISPs change, that is they’re not making money from their customers and are instead making money from email marketers, the ISPs will continue to listen and set standards that make recipients happy.
In this one area marketing targets have more influence and power than marketers. Marketers can’t treat email like another direct channel because marketers don’t own the channel and don’t make the rules there. This is why trading address lists around is not going to become an acceptable or accepted practice.