The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

Supreme Court Refuses To Hear White Buffalo Ventures Spam Case

Buried amongst stories on the Alito hearings today the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from White Buffalo Ventures regarding its suit against the University of Texas. The Court upheld the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing the University of Texas to adhere to its network and email policy by blocking unsolicited email, including those sent by White Buffalo Ventures to University students and staff. Even though White Buffalo Ventures' email solicitations conformed to the CAN SPAM Act and obtained the targeted email addresses legally, the courts decided that UT had every right under the First Amendment to block such solicitations from entering their network.

What does this mean for email marketers? Absolutely nothing! We all know that ISPs and network administrators are the world's email gatekeepers and the best way to improve deliverability is not to sue them. I guess White Buffalo Ventures got duped by some unscrupulous attorney into spending their money on something they could have found out with a few simple Google searches.

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Explosive Growth for Email – More Legal Hurdles on the Way

Last week at the Interop trade show, David Grannan, General Manager of Mobile Email at Nokia made a crazy prediction. Grannan stated that by the year 2010 there will be more than 100 million business users of mobile email, more than 20 times the current business users.

I'm going to do the "Long Island one-up" on Mr. Grannan and predict his 2010 number won't be all business users but at least one-third consumers. My reason is simple. Consumers are at the forefront of most cutting edge technology. It was consumer instant messaging that mainstreamed the communication vehicle into corporate culture and it is consumers who are leading the way for blogs, podcasting and peer-to-peer VOIP. Whatever the makeup of the 2010 number, one thing is certain, "always on email" will soon be a reality and marketers will want to leverage it. Whether its SMS or actual email protocols, consumers and business executives will be easily reached with an efficient mobile messaging device attached to their phones. Before marketers start to dip their toes in this vast sea of email mobility they will have to tackle formatting and technical issues coupled with the inevitable legal headaches. Mobile phone carriers could become the new giant ISPs and their tolerance for any commercial email would likely be very limited. In addition, the legislation that has shielded consumers from telemarketing to their mobile phones will eventually make its way to mobile email, once pressured by mobile carriers and consumer protection groups.

Whichever way the wind blows, in the end advertising efficiency will win out over the minority vocalists and unscrupulous lawyers who claim that legitimate marketers have denigrated an emerging technology. Remember, if you're cheaper to market to, you deserve cheaper prices.

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CAN SPAM ACT - What Does it All Mean?

The Federal CAN SPAM Act “S.877” has been in effect for a little more than two months. The purpose of this legislation was to reduce the amount of spam reaching our inboxes by setting forth national standards for the use and transmission of commercial email. Has the CAN SPAM Act helped to ‘can’ spam? Well, there’s no shortage of opinions on this topic, and the debate rages on.

Whether or not the CAN-SPAM Act has gone far enough to reduce inbox clutter or frighten the spammers, almost everyone agrees that it has left many legitimate marketers confused and concerned. And for good reason. Since the inception of this legislation, the leading technology, web service and Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) have been in a race to come up with their own ‘solutions’ to the spam problem. You can’t pick up an article on spam without reading about filtering software, authentication and detection programs, desktop spam blockers, suppression lists, white lists, black lists, certifications and digital signatures.

Earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled technical specifications for an email authentication system similar to caller ID for email. Rather than using simple filtering technology, this system would seek to identify ‘good’ email, and segregate everything else. Many companies have already experienced the frustration of having their legitimate email messages to their clients/customers blocked by overeager filtering technology, and overzealous IT departments.

At the same time, Internet and marketing firms are lobbying for the adoption of a system for ranking mailers based on reputation. Lawyers and consultants are working to convince businesses to retain them to insure spam compliance, and online publishers have flooded the markets with books on ‘dealing with CAN-SPAM’. So, where does that leave the legitimate marketer? Is it time to abandon email as a marketing and communications tool? The answer is a resounding no.

Email is still one of the most effective, reliable and cost efficient manners to communicate with current customers and prospects. Remember, the legislation was enacted to reduce spam, penalize spammers, and set forth best practices for email marketing. It was not intended to stop legitimate marketers from using email to communicate with their willing audience. Unfortunately, the immediate result of the legislation is that marketers have to work harder and smarter to ensure that their messages are successfully delivered to their intended audience. And, while marketers are working harder, spammers continue to find unorthodox ways of getting their messages delivered.

It’s time to take the bull by the horns. Legitimate marketers can remain ‘spam compliant’ by following common sense rules. Be honest. Don’t try to hide or disguise who you are, or the purpose, subject or content of your message. Take people off your list immediately when they opt out. Even one message arriving after an opt-out may be enough for you to be reported as a spammer. Address complaints promptly and professionally. Remember, anyone even suspecting you of spamming them, won’t hesitate to report you to the ISP, and most ISPs have made spam reporting as simple as clicking a button.

If you are concerned about whether your company has the time or human resources necessary to manage the various aspects of CAN-SPAM compliance, it may be worth considering an outside email service provider. An email service provider’s lifeblood is in maintaining a relationship with the ISPs to insure that their clients’ email messages aren’t filtered, blocked or blacklisted. In addition, a reputable email service provider will routinely monitor their customers’ messages for compliance, provide automatic opt-outs and suppressions, and handle complaints promptly. The costs of using an email service provider should be weighed against the time and resources required by your company’s IT department to address these types of ongoing data management issues.

The email landscape will undoubtedly continue to evolve in the months and years to come based on this newly enacted legislation, and the response of consumers and ISP’s. Legitimate marketers will have to work harder to insure deliverability, high open rates, and less blocking. Gold Lasso is committed to staying ahead of email marketing trends, and will continue to make the necessary changes to our system and procedures to help our clients remain in full compliance with email standards and laws.

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My Prediction for Commercial Email If Sender ID is Accepted – A Windfall for Email Marketers And Price Descrimination For Consumers

For those of you who define spam as a commercial email sent from a legitimate company help is on the way. Large ISPs such as AOL, Microsoft and Earthlink have been pushing the adoption of Sender ID technology which authenticates that email sent to your mail server is from a legitimate Internet domain and one that has not been forged in the mail's header. This is the most promising technology to date for stopping all the solicitations for diet pills, mortgages and body enhancement drugs since these are the types email solicitations that usually contain false domain information. Sender ID technology can also give an ISP, corporate network admin or even an individual an easier way to block all information from a particular company.

As an email marketing executive, I applaud Sender ID technology and can't wait for it to be accepted and implemented. My reason for being pro Sender ID is simple LONG TERM economics. Sender ID technology should eliminate most of the hucksters and fly by night companies and decrease the volume of email sent in general. In addition, many consumers will opt not to receive any type of commercial email easily taking advantage of the technology's power. With a decrease in the supply of email that makes it to a recipient's inbox, the more apt consumers will be to review and respond to legitimate commercial email. When the medium starts experiencing better response rates, the more valuable my products and services will become, allowing me to charge higher prices for volume being sent through my system.

At first glance this seems like a great for people who consider all commercial email to be spam. But in the end consumers who opt not to receive any commercial email will become the biggest losers in the spam game. My rationale for this is based on the fact that companies and marketers will reward consumers who have a lower cost per acquisition or a lower cost to market to and punish consumers who make them jump through hoops to communicate with them. Lower prices will come in the same format as they do offline; coupons, rewards programs and preferred pricing. The simple fact is that the incredible efficiencies email and other Internet technologies affords are too great for companies to ignore even if it means ticking a few consumers off by sending unsolicited commercial email.

Just keep this in mind. In five years from now long after Sender ID has been accepted and implemented, if you have turned a blind eye to the commercial email world don't get upset when your neighbor has 100% of his vacation paid for because his frequent flier's miles program decided to give him some extra points for receiving some spam.

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