Guilt by association

Here is what you do need to do in order to create and distribute legitimate e-mail and avoid having your messages trashed as junk mail.

Spam accounts for close to half of all e-mail traffic, and ranks as the top complaint of most Internet users. It is no wonder then that the United States Senate is out the change the world of e-mail communication, with spam laws already in place in 37 states.

Take a look at Senate Bill S.877 and you’ll see that the Spam kings of the world have ruined it for all of us. The bill seeks to regulate interstate commerce by imposing limitations and penalties on the transmission of unsolicited commercial electronic mail via the Internet.

Keeping this bill in mind, it is important that companies now view e-mail marketing as just one of many tools in a marketing program. Despite the Direct Marketing Association’s prediction that $5.3 billion will be spent on direct marketing through the Internet this year, making it your only marketing tool is imprudent.

Here’s what you do need to do in order to create and distribute legitimate e-mail and avoid having your messages trashed as junk mail:

1. Include a return e-mail address or link so the recipient can unsubscribe;

2. Clearly convey in your message that your e-mail is an advertisement;

3. Supply a valid physical postal address; and

4. List a phone number the recipient may call to unsubscribe.

More than likely, you are already providing this information in your e-mails. But if you are not, begin doing so immediately. The proposed law would be jointly enforced by the FTC, state attorney’s general and Internet service providers, with the potential for multimillion-dollar civil judgments against violators. In many ways, for businesses that do any marketing via e-mail, this is the music industry’s piracy enforcement all over again.

Furthermore, The Federal Trade Commission Act allows the FTC to act in the interest of all consumers to prevent deceptive and unfair acts or practices in terms of advertising and marketing on the Internet. In addition to including the above mentioned information in e-mail marketing, it is also critical to follow these rules when utilizing the Internet for advertising or marketing.

The FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising in any medium. That is, advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers. A claim can be misleading if relevant information is left out or if the claim implies something that’s not true.

So what are smarter marketers doing? They are creating marketing plans that include a variety of options they can use to reach customers and prospects. Web-based marketing tools such as Google Adwords and Overture are good alternatives.

And given the laws governing traditional telesales activities, and the consumer thumbs-down being given to them, forecasters already are predicting that direct postal mail will make a strong comeback. In fact, companies such as Pitney-Bowes are seeing their stocks rise based on this speculation.

Putting your message in front of your prospects is no longer a free ride. You must be careful that your product or service isn’t associated with a method of advertising that’s gotten a bad name.

John Fox is the president and founder of Venture Marketing. He can be reached at [email protected]

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