Alternatives to Spam: Six Flame-Proof Ways to Market via E-Mail

Helpful guidelines to business e-promotion that will enable you to steer clear of unethical Spam.

If spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) is unethical and should NEVER be used, then what are the acceptable methods of promotion using e-mail that don’t resort to spam.

1. Use Opt-In E-Mail Marketing.
An “opt in” list, allows companies to send SOLICITED commercial e-mail. E-mail marketers get consumers’ permission before sending commercial e-mail. Third party companies gather e-mail addresses of consumers who express an interest in receiving commercial e-mail on specific topics that they choose (e.g., computer products, sports information). Consumers are free to add or remove their e-mail addresses at their own discretion, no questions asked. Then companies planning to send targeted, solicited e-mail rent these lists. Use of an “opt in” list avoids the reactance, retaliation, and grudgeholding that comes with spam.

PostMaster Direct Response ( rents targeted e-mail lists to companies seeking specific target markets. They claim response rates as high as 9%. The Direct E-Mail List Source ( and ReplyNet Solicited E-Mailing Services ( are other examples of opt in, solicited e-mailing services that rent targeted lists.

2. Newsletters, Url-Minders, Etc.
Sending e-mail to target markets is not spam if the target market asks for your e-mail.

Many sites encourage users to sign up for an e-mail newsletter, finder service, web site update notification service, etc. If visitors sign up for an e-mail reminder service, you can encourage the visitor to come back to your site. The messages you send via e-mail must contain something of value and be free to be effective. But in this context, a site can encourage return visits by “reminding” visitors of the offerings at the site.

C|Net’s Digital Dispatch ( sends e-mail to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Embedded in each e-mail message are URLs directing the browser back to the company’s web site for articles and additional information. Amazon Books ( offers the Eyes service, which notifies visitors via e-mail of new books that meet specified criteria. The Online Travel web site ( notifies subscribers via e-mail every time the discount travel fares between Europe and the United States change. With each of these three examples, users “sign up” for a newsletter or reminder service and give permission to be contacted again via e-mail. It’s a great way to keep in touch with your target market.

3. Personalized News Services
Some content providers offer personalized news services. Users can select from various types of news and information, and this information is then delivered via e-mail directly to the consumer’s mailbox. With HTML-based mail, advertisements are embedded into messages. For example, Infobeat ( sends out news and information on a wide variety of topics (e.g., sports, politics, weather), and users select desired news. Then updates pertaining to these topics are sent out whenever newsworthy events happen. These updates are embedded with banner ads that jump to the advertiser’s site. The Infobeat web site currently boasts 1.5 million subscribers to its mail service. A similar service is Netscape’s In-Box Direct program ( that allows recipients to select the news and information they wish from a wide variety of sources (the Wall Street Journal, The Weather Channel, CNN, TV Guide, etc.).

5. Create A Virtual Community
Another e-mail strategy is to develop your own virtual community using either a Usenet newsgroup or an e-mail discussion group. To use this strategy, you must gather together various segments of the Internet population who are interested in a specific topic (a sports team, an author, Star Trek fans, etc.). In developing a virtual community, you must offer–for free–something that is of value to prospective participants (e.g., information, a place to “hang out”).

Products that are of interest to these communities can then be subtly marketed via e-mail (see Adam Boettiger’s excellent articles on this subject, located in the ClickZ archives at

The key here is soft marketing. A real-life example: In conjunction with, I have sold a lot of books about Brigham Young University sports through an e-mail discussion list I run devoted to that topic ( While I do include banner ads for these books on my site, the majority of interest in the books has resulted from online discussions and soft promotions on the discussion list.

If you develop a virtual community, you can occasionally send out messages with information about your service to your subscribers, and ask participants to forward the e-mail message to like-minded friends and acquaintances who might also be interested in your community and/or product/service. This is a very credible way to drive traffic to your site or to your discussion list/newsgroup because participants, not you, are spreading the word.

5. Use Signature Files
When participating in a virtual community, use a signature (an electronic business card). Using a signature file means you do not have to explicitly call attention to your company. When you participate in discussion groups, use a signature file with all of the pertinent information required to contact you or receive more information (e.g., your URL, e-mail address, autoresponder, etc.). Use no more than 6 to 10 lines of text to avoid irritating recipients. Remember that complete URLs in your signature file are live, clickable hypertext links in many e-mail programs.

If you run an e-mail discussion list or newsgroup, you can also automatically append a message footer to the end of each message sent to your newsgroup or discussion list.

6. Use Autoresponders
Not everyone has access to the web, especially those in countries outside of the United States. One way to provide information is to use e-mail autoresponders. An autoresponder (also called an “infobot” or “mailbot”) automatically and instantaneously responds to people who request information via e-mail. is an example of an autoresponder. When mail is sent to this address, a copy of the request is forwarded to a real person and an automated message is sent back to the person who initially made the inquiry. In your automated message, make sure you include contact information, fax numbers, e-mail addresses and, most importantly, when you will respond to their query with a personal response. Due to the instantaneous nature of the Internet, it is critical that you respond to e-mail in a timely manner, usually within 24 hours. If you do not respond quickly, you risk irritating your target market. Autoresponders are easy to set up, and you can create many different addresses devoted to specific topics.

An autoresponder address is a good thing to include in your signature file, especially when participating in newsgroups/discussion lists that may be global in nature. Again, many people outside of the U.S. do not have ready, easy access to the Web, and e-mail communications are very important.

That’s all I have come up with. What other e-mail marketing/advertising strategies are you using that do not resort to spam?

Newell Wright is Assistant Professor of Marketing at James Madison University. His web site is


Site Entry PageMain PageSearch Our Site

—————–* Affordable, Effective Marketing & Copywriting Services     For Small Business and Nonprofits     For Publishers and Authors     Client Testimonials—————–* Speeches and Presentations     Available Topics     Speaking Testimonials—————–* Press Room     Marketing Story Ideas for Reporters     Media that have Interviewed Shel     Interview Questions for Shel     Press Releases

Testimonials from Press—————–* Information for Marketers     Grassroots Marketing     Marketing Without Megabucks     Testimonials from Readers     Frugal Marketing Tipsheet Archives     Down to Business Magazine     Marketing Resources—————–* We Also Recommend     Products and Programs We Endorse     Our Sister Sites     Other Links—————–* Contact / Bio     To Place an Order     Address, Phone, Fax     Contact Us     About Shel     Frequently Asked Questions     Site Bulletins / Announcements     Copyright, Privacy, Permissions—————–