The Lean Marketer Blog

Email Marketing vs. Spamming

A few days ago I was part of a lecture series on generating B2B leads. One of the speakers spoke about using LinkedIn, one about customer/prospect events, and I was asked to speak about email marketing. When I started gathering my thoughts to prepare the presentation, I realized that in fact, I had a lot to say, even though I don’t really think of myself as an email marketer. Both from the standpoint of a marketer, and from the standpoint of someone who worked in a spam-fighting company for six years. As always, the best part was the questions, so I’ll try to answer a few of them here:

Isn’t it better to send email from a different domain than your main corporate domain? For example if my company name is “company” create a new domain “” or “” so that if that domain gets blocked as a spam domain, our corporate email won’t get blocked?

From a branding perspective, creating a new domain that differs from your Web site domain is a real problem. And if this new domain simply re-directs to your Web site domain, you are not fooling anyone, certainly not the blacklist administrators.  (Blacklists or blocklists, also known as RBLs or Realtime Block Lists, are lists of IP addresses that are maintained by organizations on the Internet that many anti-spam products and IT administrators use to filter out lots of email before it ever gets handled by their servers; if you get mistakenly put onto one of these RBLs it can be hell trying to get off).  My philosophy has always been that if you are careful about sending only to people who really want to receive your email, i.e. don’t spam, and use a reputable third-party email service provider, you will be OK.

Interestingly, just days after I gave this advice to a roomful of CEOs and sales & marketing execs, one of my email security heroes Richi Jennings came out with slightly different advice; he says, use a subdomain, that is, if your company name is “company,” set up a subdomain such as “”. Of course this doesn’t fool any blacklists, either, since your domain is still listed. He does stress, however, that you should be sending from a different IP address than your main corporate email. If you use a reputable third-party sender like ExactTarget or Vertical Response as I recommended, you will be sending from their IP addresses and not your own.

Is it OK to add people you meet at a trade show to your email distribution list?

I guess that depends on what you call “meet,” and what you discuss with the person when you meet them. If the person dropped their business card into your fishbowl, then the answer is a resounding NO. If you had a meaningful conversation with the person that ended with “we send out a monthly email newsletter about trends in this industry – would it be OK if I add you to the distribution list?” then the answer is maybe (but just maybe). The better thing to do is to say something like “we send out a monthly email newsletter… would it be ok if I send you a link to some samples and a way to register to receive it?” This way the person you’ve met has a chance to see what it is he’s getting signed up for, and decide for himself away from the glare of the event.

There is another option. The unspoken assumption is that anyone who gives a business card or gets their badge scanned at a trade show will get one (and only one) email from the company, thanking them for visiting their booth. What if you turn that boring thank you email into a compelling marketing piece, that generates real signups? A CMO at a successful software company shared his secret weapon in a presentation I attended recently – his company collects as many cards & badge scans as they can during the event itself through all kinds of creative methods. Their thank you email contains a a highly compelling offer to download a report on salaries for people with their target market’s job title. This is a fabulous report they created themselves with original research. Of course while people are registering to receive the report that they are dying to see, they also have the option to opt in to receive further reports & email updates from the company. There you go – painless opting-in.

So my advice is to spend your time thinking of what amazing offer you can give your trade show visitors right afterward that will motivate them to continue engaging with you or your company. This will help you build your email list, and of course eventually your customer base.

We don’t use a fancy emailing system – how can we do AB testing?

AB testing is useful since every percentage point counts when you are trying to get someone to first open your mail, and next click on your offer. Even just a 3%  difference equals 150 people in a 5000-person email send, and most email marketers send lots more than 5000 emails at a time. In my presentation I gave a couple examples of AB testing of subject lines, one of which demonstrated a 5% difference in open rate.

Of course there are systems available for AB testing. But what if you don’t have access to one? Easy enough: take a subset of your list, say 200 recipients. Send your first version (“A”) to 100 people, and your second version (“B”) to another 100 people. Then watch and wait. Measure the difference in opens and click throughs. Then, after a day or so, you can determine which subject and offer is getting a better response. Use that subject-offer combination in your big send, to everyone but the 200 you already sent to. (Remember to filter out those 200 testers from your main send).

I realize this last question doesn’t have to do with spamming, per se, but the better your emails perform, the less chance they will ever be considered spam, or your company a spammer.

If you’re interested in viewing the whole presentation (which talks about a lot more than spam), it’s embedded below, or you can click through to view it here.



Image credit: Dok1

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