You can’t market to people from inside a spam folder. To land in your customers’ inboxes and minds instead, you’ve got to ride on the coattails of an email service provider (ESP) with a spam-free reputation.

What’s your ticket to ride those coattails? Following the rules that got the ESPs their good reputations in the first place. 

ESPs — everyone from Campaign Monitor to Mandrill — set the bar higher than the law does. ESPs define spam as mail that’s unsolicited and sent in bulk. Period. Good intentions and an “unsubscribe” link are not enough.

ESPs also put the burden of proof in a tougher place — entirely on your shoulders — than the law does. If someone complains that you spammed them, the ESP will likely ban you unless you can prove in writing that the specific complainant asked to hear from you.

Mail to a bought list? Spam.

Since you rarely get written proof of recipients’ consent when you buy a mailing list, mail to a bought list is almost always spam. And grief from your ESP aside, the marketing community is unanimous that this tactic wouldn’t have achieved your marketing goals, anyway.

Renting a list? Not spam.

Publications (e.g.: GEN, LabRoots, BioTechniques) and trade shows can mail to their lists for you, taking the responsibility for getting and proving recipients’ consent off your shoulders. Publications and trade shows charge for this service, of course, but you may find that the well-targeted audience and clearly defined responsibilities are worth the price.

Building a list the honest way? Not spam.

You’ve got to give love to get love. Prospective customers will happily opt into your mailing list as long as they get something of use — an informative white paper or a funny industry-humor video — in return. Contact our content marketing experts to brainstorm how you can show your audience your love.

A final tip: reputations are built, not made
ESPs typically limit how much mail new users can send. If you’re just starting out with an ESP, plan to start with a reputation-building trickle of mailings, not a big-bang campaign.

Spam FAQs

Doesn’t the CAN-SPAM Act say that unsolicited email is okay as long as there’s an unsubscribe link at the bottom?

Yes, but ESPs voluntarily follow higher standards than the law’s. You’ve got to not only satisfy the law, but ESPs themselves.

Is mail sent to an existing customer spam?
This is generally okay (“implied consent”), but still cause for caution. For example, you can only mail an existing customer in Canada if they’ve made a purchase from you in the past two years.

What if I got a recipient’s email address from a business card put in a fishbowl at a trade show?
If the fishbowl clearly says that it’s for opting into your mailing list, you’re not violating the spirit of typical ESP rules. But, as always, if the business card’s owner reports a message as spam, the burden of proving their consent in writing remains entirely on you. Accepting opt-ins by fishbowl is gambling that the photo you took of the fishbowl is persuasive enough to convince your ESP.