Open Thread: Are There Two "Sides" to Email Marketing?

Recently, I was talking with my accountability partner about email marketing. She’d had a bit of a mishap with one of her email campaigns, and we were trying to figure out how she could possibly correct the situation. That led us to a discussion on the “sides” of email marketing (or “schools of thought,” for lack of a better phrase). The easiest way to explain these possible “sides” is to talk about a couple of scenarios.

First Scenario: A List of Loyal Followers

In the first scenario, you build a following. You have a web site, a blog, maybe a few social networking profiles, and people within your target audience begin to follow your posts and updates. Eventually, they become so interested in what you have to say that they sign up to receive your email newsletter so that they can stay in the loop on everything going on with you and your business.

Once a month or so, you send out your email newsletter. It has a couple of helpful articles that are relevant to your target audience, as well as information about a featured product or service that might interest your readers.

Month after month, your readership grows. Your newsletter is a welcomed extension of your efforts as an endless resource for your following.

Second Scenario: Free Download With Sign-Up

In the second scenario, you have a new product that’s about to launch. Let’s call it your “Yoga for Beginners” e-book. You go through the first few weeks of getting the word out about your new e-book, directing people back to your web site where they can download it by signing up to receive your newsletter. Since you’re doing a big promotional push for the launch, you’re introducing yourself to new audiences, but it seems to be going well, since your mailing list is growing steadily.

A few weeks go by, and you send out an email newsletter called “Stretches That Really Work” that includes a great affiliate product that you think might interest your readers. It’s very relevant to your subscribers, and you’ve tried the product and absolutely love it. The day after you send the campaign, though, you get several unsubscribes, so many that your email marketing company sends you a warning that they’re now monitoring your account. What went wrong?

A Clear Divide?

Are there, in fact, two “sides” to email marketing, two separate schools of thought? If there are and you set up camp on the “loyal following” side of the fence, is it ever safe to cross over without alienating your followers? If you decide to go the “free download with sign-up” route, is there a way to avoid coming across as spam, or getting so many unsubscribes that you get flagged by your email marketing company?

Are there distinct sides to email marketing, or is it possible to find a balance and “ride the fence?” Please share your thoughts.

Photo by Flickr user tibchris, licensed under CC 2.0

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Email: The Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated