Wednesday, July 18, 2007

CAN-SPAM 2007 - The Revenge!

Congress, in an effort to avoid solving any serious problems like Social Security or Tax Reform has latched onto "SPAM" as its next legislative victory. They are in the early stages of forming a new committee to look at the original CAN-SPAM 2003 law and see what modifications it requires since, in their enlightened opinion, it isn't working...really?

As someone that provides email marketing services to legitimate businesses I can safely report that the first version of the law has been totally successful at choking out a marketing channel to small businesses, increasing the marketing costs and legal hurdles while not even putting a minor dent into the real problem of spam. Sounds like just about every other "solution" that Congress puts in place to me.

I am thinking Congress should take a quiz before being allowed to modify this law the quiz would prove that they indeed know that the spam they are trying to stop doesn't come in little metal cans that contains some mystery meat. Turning over any technology solution to the idiots on Capitol Hill is like giving dynamite to your local street gang and hoping things work out OK.

The problem with spam is not a legislative problem, it is an economic problem. As any reasonably astute student of economics can tell you people will do what is in their own best interest including BREAKING THE LAW! Yes, I know this comes as a horrible shock to the intelligent ones on Capital Hill. The fact is because email is basically a "free" marketing tool, it will continue to be the tool of choice for scum sucking spammers that can't and won't carry their own weight in the marketing world.

Editorial Note: ISPs and IT Managers please note I am not implying there is no cost in providing and supporting email services. I am keenly aware of the costs associated with this, but "free" is a word that those in the non-technical fields understand when talking about email.

When I say "free" I simply mean unlike direct mail, TV and radio advertising, and other marketing channels that I am simply saying that the typical high costs associated with doing this type of marketing generally doesn't exist with email marketing. The point is if I can blast out 1,000,000 emails for virtually no cost, it pays if off if I receive a fraction of one percent as a return rate. Try that with 1,000,000 pieces of even the most cost effective direct mail campaign and you will probably have a pink slip or a very angry client by the end of the day.

Because it makes economic sense to break the law for spammers they will continue to do it and hope they don't get caught. Making the law even more stringent or adding in other commerce killing clauses will simply raise the cost of using this medium for legit businesses while again not making a dent in the real problem, remember brilliant ones on Capitol Hill, these people are already breaking the existing laws! What would possibly make them think if they make the laws more stringent that these clowns will see the light of day and quit spamming. Fat chance.

I had lunch the other day with a guy from a business that indicated his company was breaking the CAN-SPAM 2003 law. He explained that they gathered up email addresses from lots of public sources and would send an initial blast to this list. The message was from a real, legit, bricks and mortar business. The email address to reply to was real and the company's address and phone were clearly displayed on the message. If someone wanted to unsubscribe there was a link at the bottom to do so. Unfortunately for them because the list wasn't made up of individuals that indicated BEFORE the email was sent that wanted to receive the message they were law breakers and could be seriously fined for this.

Now to add one more element to this story you should know that over 8 jobs were created by doing this because it was the primary lead generation vehicle for the company. Some hard core web guys out there right now are no doubt screaming that it is still SPAM and that it costs money to deliver and maintain all the infrastructure to deliver those messages and they should all be locked up and have the key thrown away.

However I disagree. In my opinion they are a struggling small business and while yes, they are technically breaking the CAN-SPAM law they are taking great strides to insure that if you don't want the message you can get off the list immediately. They have clearly identified themselves so they are not hiding behind spoofed email addresses from servers located in Southeast Asia somewhere and they are trying very hard to offer a real product to the market.

Now assume just for the sake of argument that the entire list was also opt-in...wouldn't you still need the servers, IT personnel, and infrastructure to deliver this blast? Yes, you would and with this one minor change you have taken an email blast that was illegal and made it legal, but you did nothing to remove the stress such a blast puts on ISPs and IT Managers.

My point is that the law simply makes criminals out of legit businesses while not stopping the true spammer who hides his identity and goes to great length to skirt the law and does absolutely nothing to help victims stop this from happening again and again.

This company is simply trying to find a cost effective way to market their services and keep the people they have employed. Why we have this attitude about email that we apply to no other marketing medium is beyond me. You don't sue the post office because they deliver ads and direct mail packages you don't want do you? Do you think we need a law that says we all need to opt-in to some type of mail list before you can deliver mail to us, after all it does cause additional stress and resources on the postal system to deliver messages people don't want.

Solving spam is a complex problem, but ultimately it is a technology and economic problem and NOT a legislative problem. On a scale of 1-10 for technology awareness I would rate most of Congress with a -6 so I really don't want these morons spending more of my tax dollars trying to solve a problem that ultimately needs to be solved by the private sector with technology and the market place with economics.

The only thing a change to the law will do is make it harder and more expensive for a legit business to use this medium and give a few more lines of legislative crap for hard core spammers to ignore. If Congress wants to truly solve the problem then they simply need to keep their hands off the Internet and let private business solve this problem and the market solve this problem.

Michael Temple

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Who Certifies the Certifiers

Several months ago I had come across a news story that indicated the Direct Marketing Association was going to start offering a certification course in search engine marketing. You can see it here. There is also another certification from another group here. I was intrigued by this for several reasons. First, early in my career involving Internet marketing I was essentially a certification junkie, I sought out every certification I could find and collected titles like baseball cards. I spent a huge pile of money and used up the very valuable resource of time. Then one day a question came to me...

Who certifies the people doing the certifying?

Interesting question don't you think? It brings to mind that whole chicken and egg riddle. To offer a certification you yourself must have some type of certification or authority to do so. Who gave you this authority and how does anyone know that the individual or organization that gave it to you had the authority to do so? Of course this question can go in circles forever, but I think you get the idea.

Maybe it is because I have been in this field for so long I am a bit jaded, but I think the Internet revolution and more broadly, technology has produced huge quantities of "certifications" in everything you can imagine from hardware installation to now search engine marketing. However at the end of the day a certification simply says all you did was expose yourself to information from someone that presumably knew more than you and possibly took some quizzes or tests and now you are "certified" to do "that", whatever "that" is.

The bad news is I have run into people over the years that had various IT and technology certifications that couldn't install a light bulb much less Windows Server or individuals that have some marketing certification that is equally meaningless. I have also ran into "trainers" that know less than me and many others that knew just a little more than the class they were teaching. Conversely I have met people with no certifications who had vast amounts of experience and knowledge that would blow away most trainers. Now I certainly don't want to trash all trainers across the globe because after all I am one of them, but a valid question of any trainer is what makes you an expert that qualifies you to teach me? Here is mine

If life were so easy that all we had to do was simply go take a 10 week certification course in something and then we were presumably qualified to do that it would be a perfect world, but alas it doesn't work that way. True knowledge in any field comes from years of experience, reading, learning from others, researching, and writing. Anyone who has done what I just said for anything will also realize you can't impart this knowledge and experience to anyone by simply "certifying" them after 10 weeks and a few tests.

Now just so you certifiers out there don't get mad at me here is a bone for you. Certification (with the right teacher) can be a good way to start to learn a topic and gain some expertise. If the training is developed well and focused correctly it may even give you a good knowledge on one key element.

The certification course will help outline and package the information in a way that allows you to start down the path towards competent or with enough effort, expert, but please don't make the mistake when you are finished and have your shiny new certification that you are qualified or ready to go out and tackle the world and solve all of its problems.

These days all a certification says to me is that someone has taken the time to show me they are willing to learn and have a basic understanding of the topic and if leveraged correctly will guide them over time to resources and opportunities that will allow them to truly become an expert.

The other bad news about certifications is that they are typically very expensive and in my opinion not always worth the money you have to pay to get them. However way too many of us want things yesterday and don't want to really put the time and energy it takes into something to really learn it and become an expert. So we go out and pay large piles of cash and invest 10 weeks of our life and take a few tests and viola we are an expert...sure you are.

One of the best ways I have found to start learning any new topic is to write about it. Write an article or book on it. To do this article you will have to research, interview real experts, test your theories, think through the information and write your conclusions. You do this enough times on any topic and you will become an expert. Unfortunately you can't typically do this type of thing in 10 weeks and get a shiny certificate at the end.

If you want to take a certification in something to start you out on the basics and get you started in the right direction and you have the money and time, then great do it, but please don't think when you are finished that your certificate means you are an expert or ready to solve those problems for everyone else. Often times the certification isn't worth the paper it is printed on.

Many people today realize this, but many more still think that all they have to do is go get some certification in IT and they are no longer going to be flipping burgers and instead will be on the road to Internet riches.

If you are willing to start learning this stuff the old fashioned way that is a tried and proven model then visit my web site where I offer articles and position papers for free on many of these topics. If you find you need even more coaching and help please consider giving me a call to discuss a consulting or speaking engagement.

Oh, many of you may be wondering if I still go get certifications today. The answer is no, after a long and painful treatment program I was able to break my addiction to certifications :) Now I just learn the old fashioned way and it has proven to be the way that works best, but certainly not the fastest.

Michael Temple