Thoughts on Spam as a Marketer and a Human

Alexander Bosika wrote recently about the DMA’s decision to “crack down” on spam. Since he baited me to comment, I’ll fall for the trap.

Spam is a big issue that I tend to look at from two vantage points.

1. As an individual.

2. As a marketer.

As an individual, spam is certainly a huge issue for most people. I think the issue has been somewhat exaggerated by the fact that the people comment on spam (journalists, pundits, those active online) also tend to have the most exposure of e-mail addresses online and therefore tend to have their e-mail addresses harvested and passed around a bit more. Good luck using your inbox effectively if you used your main e-mail address to register a domain.

Still, for those less highly involved in online issues, spam is still a big problem for them. And certainly, the rise of hard-core spam with really raunchy subject lines doesn’t give anyone comfort that things are getting better.

As an individual, I use Spamnet by Cloudmark. This is the best solution I’ve seen to date, building on the P2P concepts of Napster and some clever pattern recognition algorithms. The software is still buggy (it’s in beta), but it is getting close to primetime and more and more I’m seeing it listed as one of the options people list when talking about “fighting spam”. My guess is that 9 months from now (if not soon), Cloudmark will be the Google of spam-catching.

So as an individual I see Cloudmark as a gift from above and use it constantly, even with the bugs in the beta version.

As a marketer, Cloudmark scares the crap out of me. Because it allows users to determine what is spam, it has a tendency to give “false positives”. A False Positive in this context is a legitimate opt-in e-mail marketer getting labeled as spam. Cloudmark tends to be better than most, but the false positives it gives are very interesting. Because people vote on each message in real-time rather than identifying in advance which IP addresses or domains to block, you see the internal workings of people’s feelings on e-mail marketing.

When the NYT sends me a book or movie updates, they always get through. As soon as they send a “special offer to NYT subscribers”, it invariably gets dumped. Amazon new release listings tend to get through Cloudmark, but the “affiliate updates” which contain a lot of promotional information, some of it for partners, gets labeled as spam.

This means that marketers need to live in constant fear of having any given message deemed as low enough value to be spam, even if every name is legitimate. And the problem will only get worse as these tools become more prevalent and more effective.

My guess is that e-mail marketing will change radically in the next 9 months as Cloudmark hits critical mass. When it tips, everything will change.