“Do you think that’s email you’re sending?”
There are two definitions of spam. One is the definition by law, and the other one is how people perceive incoming messages. You need to be aware of this distinction, and the worst part is: you need to abide by both sets of rulse. Yuck!
Spam by law
Unfortunately, the world doesn’t offer one global spam law. Details vary from country to country. A couple of pretty universal rules though:
- You are not allowed to send email messages with commercial, ideological or charity related content to people who did not sign up for it.
- A sign up process using double opt-in is mandatory.
- You are required to provide a simple one-click unsubscribe method.
- When requested, you are supposed to be able to prove that your subscribers have actually subscribed on their own free will.
A rather universal exception to the first rule above is the fact that you can send email messages to your customers about the products that they bought, or about related products, as long as you have offered them a chance to deny this while purchasing your product(s).
This is actually a kind of grey area: suppose you buy a book on Amazon and you allow Amazon to send you email messages. Then Amazon is allowed to offer you other books through email. Other books are “related products”, that’s pretty obvious. However, Amazon offers CDs and DVDs as well. Are they related to books? And what about fitness gear? As you can see, there’s a lot of room for ambiguity here. You can resolve this by allowing your subscribers to choose from a list of subjects or product categories.
Spam by perception
This type of spam will not be punished by fines or other official measures, but by a loss of goodwill and maybe even damage to your brand. If you send anyone an unsollicited email, this person is – in most cases – not going to develop particulary warm feelings towards you. Some people don’t bother to unsubscribe, but the ones that do, will be off your list in no time.
So even though there is some (actually, very little, but sometimes it works) truth to the marketing paradigm that huge numbers make up for a lack of quality or commitment, you should refrain from sending emails to people who didn’t ask for it. It’s unethical, illegal and it hardly ever beats creating true and honest commitment.