E-mail marketing is a form of direct marketing which uses electronic mail as a means of communicating commercial or fund-raising messages to an audience. In its broadest sense, every e-mail sent to a potential or current customer could be considered e-mail marketing. However, the term is usually used to refer to:

  • sending e-mails with the purpose of enhancing the relationship of a merchant with its current or previous customers, to encourage customer loyalty and repeat business,
  • sending e-mails with the purpose of acquiring new customers or convincing current customers to purchase something immediately,
  • adding advertisements to e-mails sent by other companies to their customers, and
  • sending e-mails over the Internet, as e-mail did and does exist outside the Internet (e.g., network e-mail and FIDO).

Comparison to traditional mail

Advantages

E-mail marketing (on the Internet) is popular with companies for several reasons:

  • An exact return on investment can be tracked ("track to basket") and has proven to be high when done properly. E-mail marketing is often reported as second only to search marketing as the most effective online marketing tactic.
  • Advertisers can reach substantial numbers of e-mail subscribers who have opted in (i.e., consented) to receive e-mail communications on subjects of interest to them.
  • Over half of Internet users check or send e-mail on a typical day.
  • E-mail is popular with digital marketers, rising an estimated 15% in 2009 to 292m in the UK

Disadvantages

A report issued by the e-mail services company Return Path, as of mid-2008 e-mail deliverability is still an issue for legitimate marketers. According to the report, legitimate e-mail servers averaged a delivery rate of 56%; twenty percent of the messages were rejected, and eight percent were filtered.

Companies considering the use of an e-mail marketing program must make sure that their program does not violate spam laws such as the United States' Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM),[6] the European Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, or their Internet service provider's acceptable use policy.

Legal requirements

In 2002 the European Union introduced the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications. Article 13 of the Directive prohibits the use of email addresses for marketing purposes. The Directive establishes the opt-in regime, where unsolicited emails may be sent only with prior agreement of the recipient.

The directive has since been incorporated into the laws of member states. In the UK it is covered under the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 and applies to all organisations that send out marketing by some form of electronic communication.

In addition to satisfying legal requirements, e-mail service providers (ESPs) began to help customers establish and manage their own e-mail marketing campaigns. The service providers supply e-mail templates and general best practices, as well as methods for handling subscriptions and cancellations automatically. Some ESPs will provide insight/assistance with deliverability issues for major email providers. They also provide statistics pertaining to the number of messages received and opened, and whether the recipients clicked on any links within the messages.

The CAN-SPAM Act was updated with some new regulations including a no fee provision for opting out, further definition of "sender", post office or private mail boxes count as a "valid physical postal address" and definition of "person". These new provisions went into effect on July 7, 2008              

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