Direct marketing refers to advertising that travels straight from a business to its customers with no intermediary. This type of marketing has several benefits: first, it can be more specifically targeted than, for example, buying advertising that the business’s customers may or may not come in contact with; second, it can be tracked to see how effective it is. Flyers and catalogs sent by snail mail are more traditional types of direct marketing. Email direct marketing is a newer approach in which promotional material is sent via email.
Direct marketing via email has some advantages over telemarketing and direct mail. First of all, it costs less than either. This means that businesses can send out more marketing messages and fine-tune them to different segments of their audience. Second of all, it is not subject to global cutoffs, the way telemarketers of any kind can be stopped by signing up for the national do-not-call list.
However, email direct marketing has guidelines, rules, and penalties that are not in place for mailings sent through the United States Postal Service. It is important for anyone who plans to begin an email direct marketing campaign to become acquainted with both the law and the currently accepted best practice. The first will help prevent the business from being labeled a spammer. The second will help keep the business in its customers’ good graces.
In 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) was passed. In it were some requirements for those who send out commercial email, a definition of commercial spam, and an explanation of the penalties for spamming. According to CAN-SPAM, an email direct marketing can be commercial spam if it has four characteristics: it must be sent in bulk, contain nearly identical, if not identical, messages, not have been solicited by the user, and be email of a commercial nature. Email that has these characteristics is known as Unsolicited Commercial Email or UCE.
CAN-SPAM requires the use of accurate header information and subject lines, the presence of opt-out options, and the inclusion of the sender’s physical postal address, along with a clear statement that the message is commercial in nature. In addition, it is forbidden to harvest emails by collecting them from websites, use scripts or other means to automatically register accounts, create recipient email addresses by permutation, or use a computer or network to relay email without permission of the owner. Experts go further. They say that CAN-SPAM is only the minimum and honest, aboveboard merchants should use opt-in, rather than opt-out; never buy or sell email lists; and be clear about the opt-in and what the results of the choice will be.