May 3, 2007

How selling email sponsorships can land you on blacklists

One of our customers recently sent a campaign to 20,000 recipients. Those recipients all opted-in at his website for special alerts. They even had to click a confirmation link in a welcome email.

Problem is, 63 of his recipients still reported his campaign as spam.

That means everyone here at MailChimp got 63 warnings from ISPs (we send FBL reports to our entire staff, so we each feel the urgency if one of our customers is generating complaints).

We suspended his account to investigate…

He runs a tight ship, in terms of list management. He sends a
well-branded welcome email. He’s got his unsub link, mailing address,
and all the usual CAN-SPAM requirements. He’s even got some text in his
footer, reminding people how they got on his list.

Hmm. What would cause 63 double opt-in recipients to still report you as a spammer, and possibly get you blacklisted?

Turns out he radically changed the design of his email campaign. He
went from a white background with a blue and orange logo, to a very
anonymous looking, almost non-branded, black-background template with
white text and red links.

Why on earth would he dramatically change the branding and identity of his email
campaign? Turns out he had a big sponsor in that email, and that
sponsor’s branding is black and red. The sponsor demanded that he redesign his campaign to match their branding. As you can imagine, his recipients just didn’t recognize who was sending, and they reported it as spam.

We’ve seen this happen before, actually.

It’s very common with promoters, party planners, publicists, and the like.

They’re popular, they’re cool, they’re uber-networkers, and they have huge lists of local people who want to be "in the know." They send them occasional emails about cool events going on around town. Kind of like tiny, ultra-focused DailyCandys. They usually have extremely loyal lists. Very valuable lists. They make good money from sponsorships and ads.

The smart ones always, always, always put their own branding at the top of the email template. Then, just below, they place their their sponsor’s branding and details. By the way, MailChimp’s "Postcard" layout is perfect for this (here’s an example we like).

If you want to sell sponsorships or ads in your emails, never let a sponsor supersede your own branding. Always let your recipients know where the email came from. Even better, try to include a personal note from you, or your company, introducing your sponsor below.

For example, "Hi everybody, we’ve got a special offer from Acme Widgets to all our subscribers. Enjoy…"

This will keep the unsubscribes (and the spam complaints!) to a minimum.

Whose list is it, anyway?