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The Ethical Issues in the Email Marketing

This is my first article posted in CCJK Blog. As a beginning, I come up with a topic about the ethical issues in the email marketing and would like to talk about several of them with my understanding. This article will just mention three issues but there are more others which are still considered seriously. And hopefully the others will be supplied by every reader. In the digital age, e-mail has been a very popular communication technology for people.  In comparison with direct mail, e-mail as the paperless way is much cheaper, quicker and more convenience to be used. In business, almost all the companies have put e-mail as an effective tool in the internet marketing. Email marketing is a frequent and effective way we use in our CCJK business. Chittenden et al (2002) revealed that around 90 percent of US email marketing already was to existing customer at the end of 2001. In response to the fast-growing channel of communication, marketers have been used it as an online advertising method with the benefit of one to one marketing. Chittenden et al (2002) recognizes that e-mail provides marketers the two-way channels of communication through establishing the permission relationship and interacting with customers in the real time. Following the development of e-mail marketing, while marketers send lots of commercial messages for consumers through e-mail, a series of ethical issues have appeared, for example spam. It is a forced method to send consumers a huge of messages in an irregular schedule without any permission. Normally, marketers should give the opportunity for consumers to permit receiving commercial e-mail or not, and a procedure of opt-out.

  • Spam
Nettleton et al (2005) stated that e-mail spamming as a global problem is free to send and capable of reaching a large number of target consumers virtually. Due to the characteristic of e-mail, some marketers are able to send advertising messages or other kind of information for the business purpose. Then the consumers who have registered in marketers’ database would suffer the interruption of spam. The appearance of e-mail spam results in the situation that recipients get a lot of unsolicited and unwanted messages that clutter the inbox so that influence the regular e-mail service badly, such as recipients are difficult to find out the messages they want in the clutter, and they have to spend the time to delete the rubbish e-mail which may enhance the load of e-mail box seriously. The e-mail spamming also become a negative influence for BMW’s direct marketing. E-mail is BMW’s main communication way with customers who have registered in BMW’s database and also permitted to receive commercial messages. Customers’ inbox could be stuffed by the occupation of spam so that make the messaged sent by BMW being mixed in the clutter. It is possible that customers may delete the lots of e-mail spam together with BMW’s messages. Therefore, BMW should observe anti-spam regulation and further improve customers’ knowledge about it. Many customers may not understand how to prevent the spam and classify the useful commercial messages. BMW needs to remind customers about anti-spam through e-mail or a statement on the website. It reduces the external interruption as well as enable BMW’s e-mail marketing be more effective.

  • Opt-out
In some situations, customers appear to be bored to get the information for direct marketers or they would like to remove their names in companies’ database, normally they have the right to opt out. According to the Privacy Regulation that applies to unsolicited electronic marketing messages, the recipient should be always given the chance to cancel the message receiving, and furthermore, opt out the database of the company (Langford, 2007). Milne et al (2000) have put forward a Customer Privacy States Framework in their study (refer to the chart below). This privacy framework is applied to consumers’ desire to opt out of the direct marketing list. It includes two dimensions, consumer’s knowledge about name removal mechanisms and consumer’s awareness of data collection. As we can see in this framework, the privacy state only exists in Cell 1 when consumers know that they are able to remove their names from direct marketing list if they wish and consumers are aware that the data is collected about them by direct marketers. Therefore it is quite necessary for consumers to own enough knowledge about opt-out to safeguard their privacy in the direct marketing. Basically, customers must be given the chance to opt-out of communicating with companies. The companies should provide clear information about their products or services so that consumers are able to find out what is suitable and what is not and give a choice for that. If consumers are not satisfy, they would know they can resort to well established opt-out schemes such as the telephone and fax preference services (Lovatt, 2007).

  • Permission Marketing
Facing the enormous e-mails from a variety of companies, consumers have to spend some time to classify the useful and unwanted e-mails. Some of consumers might give up registering into companies’ database or choosing to opt-out. This situation mostly results from those companies paying less attention and lost the concentration to their customers. Godin (2007) considered that permission marketing is the easiest way to tackle privacy and an effective method as well to enable companies to establish a long-term relationship with customer, create trust, build awareness and improve the chances of making sale. It is quite important for direct marketers to obtain consumers’ permission of receiving messages from companies. Once the permission is taken, direct marketers can focus on the target customers and send them the information that contains the contents which have been agreed to receive by consumers. Tezinde at el (2002) defined that permission marketing is the kind of promotional email sent to consumers who consented to get commercial information for the sender by registering at the company’s website typically. Consumer’s consent of receiving commercial messages is the start of permission marketing, and consumers have the opportunity to stop receiving any the kind of message at any time. With this way, consumers could be encouraged to take part in a long-term, interactive marketing campaign by being rewarded in some way for paying attention to relevant messages growingly. This escapes the interruption from those useless emails and allows consumers only get the kind of information what they interest. In comparison with interruption marketing which fixes its location in a too wide range of customers, permission marketing that would be concentrating on target customers well has been regarded as an investment by companies. Godin (2007) described the main characteristic of permission marketing is anticipated, personal and relevant. ‘It cuts through the clutter and allows a marketer to speak to prospects as friends, not strangers and has more impact than a random message displayed in a random place at a random moment’. Giving customers the opportunity to permit to receive the information from companies or not is significant to protect their privacy on the internet. In the BMW direct marketing plan, my group designed the email as the key media way of the communication plan. BMW would manage to let customers who have signed up at BMW’s official website to receive the email including the updated information about BMWi3 and the test driving and so on. Nevertheless, BMW needs to do before expanding it email communication with customers is that it has to get customers’ permission for receiving the email. Although the customers’ information have been put into the database of BMWi through registration on the website, it does not mean that all of customers agree to receive BMW’s promotional email in the future for some reasons, such as they prefer to other way getting BMW’s message, or they hate the clutter in their inbox. Therefore, an email of permission request should be sent to customers by BMW before it sending further messages. After that BMW only can start to email the commercial messages for the customers who claim that they allow receiving further BMW’s information. And those customers who have declined the permission request will not receive BMW’s commercial email. The permission marketing improve the effectiveness of BMW’s email communication with customers, moreover it show the respect for customers through offering them an opportunity of choosing.  Additionally, when the customers would not like to receive any form of messages from BMW, such as e-mail, direct mail or telephone, they also have the right to opt out of BMW’s database, as well as their personal information will not be used anymore by BMW.

Words translated by CCJK

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