17 October 2012

Email marketing: Are you annoying people and trashing your brand?

One of the trivial, petty annoyances that occur every week is having unsolicited emails arrive in my inbox. Mostly these messages are of the global junk spam variety. A typical random selection from this week’s junk folder being:

Dear Selected Winner,
 
We are pleased to inform you of the EMAIL REWARD PROGRAM for Internet users.

Your email address was the star pick from the automated ballot system and by virtue of this pick, you are entitled to receive the grand reward of Two Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars.

I’m sure you all receive such garbage every day.

What’s really annoying is the email spam I receive from people who should know better. For example last week I received a LinkedIn request from a CEO I have never met who runs a recruitment business I have never heard of. I have no problem with these sorts of requests as my policy is to accept all LinkedIn connection requests from people with anything to do with recruitment.

The issue was what happened next. This week I received an email from said CEO with the subject line; [AGENCY NAME]
JOB ALERT. The body of the message contained only three words:

Regards
From
[AGENCY NAME] 

The attachment was a pdf document containing the following:

RECRUITMENT CONSULTANTS & ACCOUNT MANAGERS

We are inviting applications from Recruitment industry experienced, blue and white collar Recruiters and Account Managers to join our expanding teams in [SUBURB] and [SUBURB], Victoria.

Fantastic working conditions, huge salaries that recognise your talent and hard work, loads of fun and the satisfaction of working for Australia’s Favourite Careers Company.
For more information, call [PHONE NUMBER] and speak to [NAME]. 

You can also refer a friend and receive a FREE Apple IPAD (or gift of similar value*), as our Thanks, subject to successful placement with [AGENCY NAME].

What was even worse was that there was not even any attempt at a modicum of confidentiality or privacy; my email address was visible in the TO box (not the BCC box), along with 165 other publicly viewable email addresses, including many addresses I recognised as belonging to recruitment agency owners and CEOs.

What was this CEO possibly thinking when he sent this email (or was sent on his behalf)?

For a start, it breached anti-spam laws. In case you are unfamiliar with these laws I suggest you get up to speed by visiting the relevant page on The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) website.

To quote the relevant page of this website: Under the Spam Act 2003 it is illegal to send, or cause to be sent, unsolicited commercial electronic messages. The Act covers email, instant messaging, SMS and MMS (text and image-based mobile phone messaging) of a commercial nature’

Did the CEO think we had some sort of relationship simply because I accepted his LinkedIn connection request?

The email contained no contextual information (eg I am writing to you as a first level connection of mine on LinkedIn) or any attempt at a personalised message (even Dear Ross would have been some attempt at courtesy and rapport building).

The second page of the email’s pdf attachment contained a photo image with the iStockphoto watermark clearly visible across the whole image. So not only does the CEO spam me but he’s too cheap (or too careless) to bother paying for the image ($13.25 on iStockphoto).

My one line email reply to the CEO - Please take me off this list – I did not subscribe to this list. I regard this way of advertising vacancies as spam and completely unprofessional, let alone trashing your own employer brand) was met with a first line reply of (at least he started with Hi Ross this time) A very legitimate offer with no strings attached.

WTF?

It seems he truly doesn’t get it. My interpretation from this response was that this CEO seems to think that as long as the offer is a genuine (and good) one then that’s all that matters.

I am sure his offer is genuine but that’s no way to promote it, and why he would send such an email to other recruitment agency owners and managers? Surely he doesn’t think they are going to be incentivised by an iPad to refer potential recruitment consultants to a competitor?

This company’s brand, previously unknown to me, now rates a big negative even though the CEO promptly acknowledged my concern and said he would remove me from the list.

My view is that if a CEO, who in the normal daily running of his or her recruitment agency deals with masses of confidential client and candidate information, does not know the basics of the Spam Act (2003) then I wonder what else they do not know that is fundamental to their business. This level of ignorance (about the actual anti-spam law and/or what his staff are doing on his behalf) hardly inspires confidence about the future of that business.

This is nothing personal (I have removed all identifying information). I don’t know the CEO in question. He’s run his business for much longer than I have run mine and it’s much bigger than mine so undoubtedly he’s a successful businessman. He’s clearly done a lot right for a long time.

But as we have seen recently with the very successful online campaign against Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones that past success counts for little when the online world mobilises against your brand. A huge amount of brand damage can be done in a very short amount of time and rebuilding the brand to its former position may prove to be impossible.

By the time I finished writing this article, at least two other recipients of the spam email had sent scathing return emails to the CEO about what he had done (they 'REPLIED TO ALL' the other recipients) so it’s now pretty clear to the CEO that he has done himself and his business a major disservice.

Here are some very basic points that every recruiter should know about email marketing

1)   Don’t add email addresses to an email marketing list unless you have the permission of the email address holder to do so.
2)   All marketing emails should include information about how people can unsubscribe or change their subscription status (eg at the very bottom of this newsletter you will notice a hyperlink Manage your Subscription where you can unsubscribe to this newsletter).
3)   Ensure the content of your marketing emails reflects how you wish your brand to be seen (ie correct spelling, grammar and appropriate colours, pictures, graphics, font and formatting).
4)   Consider a frequency rate of your emails that maximises the chances of your marketing emails being opened. Great content is wasted if very few people open your emails because they receive them too frequently.

The Internet age has provided huge opportunities for businesses to reach a specific audience quickly and at very low cost. That’s great news.

The bad news is that if you make one mistake, either through ignorance or carelessness then the impact can be very big, very immediate and very hard to rectify quickly or easily.
  
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4 comments:

  1. Ross... Mate...
    You've really hit a nerve with this blog.
    So you get these to huh?
    Every time I get similar emails my response is very much the same. Please remove me from your mailer, I have never subscribed to this and consider it spam. It provides little to no value.....
    Now when I speak to potential providers, I specifically request they do not send me this crap. The majority have listened, whilst others continue to send. Those that do, I report as spam.
    Just because I am on your database, does not mean I want your candidate mail shot. Its not specific to my needs, you make me feel like i'm just the same as everyone else, that you aren't selling my company over another and the list just goes on.
    I'll stop here before I get carried away. You get the point though.
    Regards
    Stan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Stan. Unfortunately there is a vast amount of ignorance out there in the recruitment industry about what constitutes spam. Until a few fines get dished out or there is significant adverse publicity it will continue.

      Delete
  2. Ross, I think you displayed a lot of restraint in not naming him. Nothing drives me mad like being put in the 'To' box of a mass email. I was sent an unsolicited SMS ad (from a retail brand) the other day, with no option to unsubscribe. It was the second time it had happened, so I told them they were breaking spam laws - on their Facebook wall. A bit mean, but seriously, if you don't know the rules, don't do it. They did reply but said it was a one-off 'mistake' - then I pointed out it happened a few months ago. If brands are going to play in a channel, then they should a) have their internal processes right and b) pay professionals if they don't know what they are doing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The definition of spam is so broad that it can virtually apply to any commercial email that is unsolicited. Even a single legitimate email, directed to a specific person, in the form of a written letter can be construed as spam if it is for commercial reasons.

    Now I'm totally against the mass email campaigns but with the regulation in this country it's getting to the stage that businesses will no longer be able to communicate with each other for fear of breaking some law or another. How is business going to be able to conduct business then?

    What happens when business-to-business cold/marketing calls are also outlawed?

    Then we are all stuffed and may as well set up in another country.

    ReplyDelete