If you’ve attended any of our recent breakfasts, you’ll know that I am a big fan of e-mail perodicals – or ’eBulletins’, as I call them.

Now, whenever I mention eBulletins, someone asks, ’But Justin, isn’t broadcast e-mail spam?’

My answer: ’Well it is, and it isn’t!’

You see, it all depends on your definition of spam. And it’s here that I disagree (as usual) with conventional marketing wisdom.

Most marketers will define spam as ’opt-out’ e-mail. Opt-out e-mail refers to e-mail communications that you have not specifically requested. In other words, their sender has assumed that you wish to receive them, and has (hopefully) provided you with the option to opt-out of the list by unsubscribing. (An opt-in communication is one that comes from a list to which you have subscribed.)

This definition of spam may seem logical, but our experience is that it isn’t practical.

Our experience is that e-mail recipients tend to define spam as ’irrelevant e-mails’ regardless of whether or not these e-mails come from an opt-in or an opt-out list.

In other words, recipients would rather receive a relevant communication from an opt-out list than they would an irrelevant communication from an opt-in list.

Now, it’s important to note that this opinion is not a blanket endorsement of mass distribution of unrequested e-mail. I’m simply suggesting that if you have a communication that you have good reason to believe will be highly relevant to its recipient – then it isn’t necessarily a sin to send it to a tightly targeted opt-out list.

Our own experience supports this opinion …

Periodically, we rent lists of executives and gift them free 12-month subscriptions to AdVerb (our offline quarterly marketing newsletter). When these lists contain e-mail addresses, we also add these addresses automatically to our list. (i.e. we subscribe ’strangers’ on an opt-out basis.)

Now, I just ran a query on our subscriber base (6,596) to find out the unsubscribe rate for opt-in versus opt-out subscribers. No prizes for guessing our opt-in unsubscribe rate is lower (4.4%). Our opt-out unsubscribe rate is three times that (12.3%).

I’m no mathematical genius, but by my calculation, our opt-out unsubscribe rate is telling me that 87.7% of our subscribers are happy receiving their unrequested e-mail periodical.

I’m sure you could argue that a percentage of these involuntary subscribers have simply failed to unsubscribe due to inertia (or because they do not wish to confirm the validity of their e-mail addresses). And you could argue that this silent percentage is cursing me under its collective breath for my flagrant abuse of its privacy.

And I’m sure that in at least one or two instances you’d be correct. But the fact that I have rarely seen an impolite ’unsubscribe’ request (and I get copied all of them) leads me to suspect that, if this silent percentage exists, it’s certainly a minority group. I also suspect that any ill will generated by the existence of this angry minority is more than compensated for by the goodwill generated by our happy (opt-out) subscribers.

How can I claim this? Simple: our greatest single source of new subscribers is referrals. Now, if I assume that our opt-out subscribers are one-third as likely to refer as their opt-in cousins, we are still gaining more new subscribers from our opt-out list than we are losing through unsubscription requests!

Find fault in my maths if you can. Shoot holes in my logic if you will. But unless someone can convince me of the error of my ways, I’ll keep adding those executives to my list on an opt-out basis.