In this new era of CAN-SPAM legislation and ever-increasing customer expectations, many of the practices that worked for e-mail marketing in the past simply won’t work anymore. The companies that can boast the most effective e-mail programs today have been successful because they’ve changed their way of thinking. Here, I outline some of the old rules and compare them to the new rules. Implement today's e-mail marketing rules to make your e-mail marketing program a long-term success.

Interruption vs. Anticipation

Historically, the goal of advertising has been to interrupt you and capture your attention while you are doing something else, whether it is an ad while you are reading the newspaper or a billboard as you’re driving down the highway. All of this interruption marketing has become so pervasive that consumers have become oblivious to it. Although there is always a place for interruption, smart e-mail marketers realize that relationships are becoming the best use for e-mail. If you have a relationship with your recipient, your messages will be anticipated. If you have no relationship, then you are interrupting them and most recipients will simply hit "Delete." Interruption marketing worked in the early days but the rules have changed. E-mail is ultimately about relationships… and anticipation.

Try asking your customers about their wants and needs. Request their permission to fulfill those needs. Gain their trust and they will likely anticipate your messages, not delete them.

List Size vs. Active Recipients

The old way of looking at e-mail marketing was “how big can I build my list?” Because the incremental cost of sending every message was almost zero, companies wanted to grow their e-mail list as much as possible. Unfortunately, owning a huge list does you no good if no one on that list wants to hear from you. So, even if a giant list will get your more responses, you may well be frustrating an even larger number of people who think your messages are irrelevant.

In the new world it is less appropriate to think about how big your list is and much more appropriate to think about how much of your list is active. That is, how many people are acknowledging your messages by opening or clicking through? And, if they are not anticipating, opening and reading your messages, what good does a big list do?

Subject Line vs. “From” Field

Nearly every e-mail marketing book out there will tell you that your subject line is the cornerstone to a successful campaign. Adding a little “oomph” to your subject line, the thinking goes, is the best way to increase your response rates. I can’t deny that subject lines impact response rates -- the old way still works, in a sense -- but if you focus solely on your subject line, you’ll neglect an equally critical asset: your brand.

Consider keeping a consistent “from” address for all mailings. When your customers and potential customers look at the “from” field of your e-mails, they are focusing on one thing -- your brand. Only if they trust your company name and what it represents will they continue to read over to your subject line. If your name in the “from” field has come to represent irrelevant and useless e-mails, even the most enticing subject line is unlikely to convince people to open your messages.

Maximum Frequency of Campaigns vs. Recipient Control

People often ask me, “How many messages can I send my customers?” This is the same thing as asking, “What is the maximum number of messages I can send my customers before they get irritated?” Assuming that the people on your list want to hear from you every time you have something to say is a mistake.

Letting the recipient control the frequency of your communications is a great idea, and it makes good business sense. Research has proven that consumers want control over the e-mails they receive. You don’t want to force customers into a "yes" or "no" proposition when they are considering how much or what e-mail they want to receive from you. Whenever possible, you should separate your e-mail into products or channels, with material that appeals to different audiences and allows them to choose the information they receive from your company.

For example, if you work in marketing for an airline, you might have one channel for sale fares to vacation destinations and another channel that provides insider tips to frequent business travelers. By allowing customers to pick and chose the specific content they want from your company, you increase not only the size of your potential audience, but also its overall interest level in your product.

Keep in mind that these new ways of thinking will not only improve your e-mail program, but also will enhance your brand image and help ensure long-term relationships with customers.