Before the lockdown, my inbox was a serene place. It was full of newsletters I valued, updates from people I looked forward to and information about my various online accounts and services. Every couple of weeks I would dive into my spam folder and check to see if anything had been sent the wrong way and put it right. My email was under control.
Then came the lockdown.
Within a few hours messages arrived from left, right and centre. Companies who had long ago told me they removed me from their systems were sending me “service messages”. Trusted suppliers, who started with reassuring announcements about my accounts, began including sales messages. Others increased the frequency of their contact. At one point McKinsey sent me 4 messages in a single day with “updates on coronavirus”.
Spam rose sharply. It began with more frequent messages from the old suspects nestled in my junk file. New names appeared, then people I had a vague connection to on LinkedIn. The “guess the email address” brigade ramped up their efforts too.
Newbies have joined the spam brigade
Not all of these messages were coming from seasoned spammers. They also came from small business owners desperate to undo the damage from lockdown. Perhaps they were hoping I’d take pity on them and buy. Perhaps they knew no better. Regardless of their intent, my filters were trapping their pleas for help and tossing them aside, never to be seen.
In the space of a few days, the best practices built up over years of careful testing and adapting were thrown away. Service messages, which should convey important information about us as customers, have been co-opted for sales. Data that should have been suppressed or removed has been called into service. Spamming is becoming a “valid” tactic for businesses desperate to seem relevant.
Stop it: you’re damaging your brand
These short-term tactics risk undoing years of brand building in one click of a “send” button.
The rules of effective email marketing still apply. Coronavirus does not mean you can flout laws and expect a “get out of jail free” card when everything goes back to normal. Nor does it mean those who receive your messages will look on them any more kindly than we may have done in the past. If anything, you should be more careful in protecting your brand and avoid being flagged as a spammer. You’ll need all the goodwill and trust in your brand you can manage.
Bonus: What is a service message?
You rarely need consent to send customers and registered users information about their relationship with you. These “Service Messages” typically carry information about changes to terms, operating hours or delivery times. They do not have any sales or marketing content and often there is no call to action.
If you include any marketing content, no matter how well intentioned, it will require consent.