Forget spam - permission equals sales

Sending spam certainly makes headlines, but sending email to recipients who actually ask to be included has a different spin-off: it makes money, says email marketing company Touchpoint's managing director Steve Shearman.

Shearman's company is deeply involved in the email marketing world - Touchpoint provides the service behind IDG Communications' email newsletters like the Friday FryUp and Virus Watch - and Shearman says companies that do send spam just make life difficult for those marketeers that are trying to work legitimately.

"Everybody's affected by it and let's face it, we get so many unsolicited emails that we don't read them. That makes it harder for companies that are legitimately trying to communicate with customers via email."

Shearman says email is often abused as a form of communication.

"How often do you get an email from a company that says 'don't reply to this email' or comes from an address like 'norespond@...' or something like that. They're missing out on the chance to communicate with their customer."

Shearman says the only real way of using email is to only deal with those customers that want to receive an email from you. Otherwise you run the risk of upsetting customers, which is hardly the right thing to do business-wise.

Companies also have to be willing to use different methodology for different relationships. Shearman says having one blanket policy across the board probably won't fit every situation. Take the example of being able to send email to someone with whom you have an existing relationship.

"If they're someone who sent you a CV do you have the right to send them mail? They're in a different category to a customer who has been receiving a newsletter, for example, that might be going online. You could send those customers an email telling them you were moving the newsletter online and asking them to opt out if they don't want it and that would be acceptable I think."

Shearman has been discussing the thorny issue of text message based relationships as well. In the US and Europe text messaging has become the latest battle ground for spammers.

"Because European networks are so integrated you get a lot of cheaper prices for bulk text messaging, say from Spain to Germany. That means text messaging sits somewhere between email and sending a letter as a means of communication."

Email is so cheap a form of communication that Shearman believes companies will always be drawn to it as a way of staying in touch with customers - once the issue of what is and isn't spam is worked out.

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