Ethonomics: Emails’ Next Frontier
Moving forward within our email solar system, we can begin to make out the next frontier on the horizon. At the center of this brave new world is a term that remains relatively obscure today: Ethonomics, or the study of ethics in the marketplace. Ethonomics is a conditional term given to the concept of defining and prioritizing values within value systems—systems that describe the management of ethics in a particular marketplace. Ethonomics prioritizes values within a system so that the price and quality outcomes in a given marketplace become favorable. When these outcomes are favorable, the marketplace is said to have a congruent value system.
We need to recognize that we, as senders, are a part of an “incongruent” value system. As a colleague of ours mentioned, “Ethonomics does exist in our industry, just not everywhere and not across all players.” A study of ethonomics (as it relates to the email industry) suggests that, in strategic ethical decision-making, a high level of engagement is required to produce efficient, flexible and effective resolve, which ultimately leads to ethical normalcy. This is an intangible that does not currently exist across our industry. The current lack of ethical normalcy in the industry implies that management of ethics and economics in email through “non-regulatory” methods holds significant advantages over management of ethics through regulation.
Let’s face it, without Email Service Providers (ESPs), we wouldn’t have much of an industry, correct? ESPs are the “galaxies” of the email universe; they ultimately develop long-term solutions for most marketers’ digital messaging requirements. However, as the industry navigates towards maturity, we continue to find ourselves struggling, caught between profitable business practices and virtuous principles meant to further the cause of the common good.
All industries face this problem, not just email. However, we as a group must recognize these growing pains now and find a solution so we can discern consistent ethical boundaries before civil hostilities spiral out of control. The intersection of ethics and economics lies with the “c” level decision makers in our industry, who sometimes choose short-term gain over a long-term strategy for the greater good. I believe the email industry has the ability to produce sound non-regulatory principles that will thwart unethical behavior, at least among suspect senders.
The Scarcity and Commoditization of Legitimate Email
For example, one method of survival for a particular constellation of ESPs is to develop an internal policy for eradicating the cluster of marginal clients that tend to send spam. However, from a financial standpoint, these policies can be difficult to enact due to the large paydays some ESPs might receive from these marginal accounts. The scarcity of legitimate email makes the eradication of spam a compelling issue. Currently, legitimate marketers know when they have a class “A” organic list, allowing them to take bids from several leading ESPs, who will drive down the CPM price in order to earn their business. But imagine, for a moment, a “relaxed” way to regulate CPM prices, so that once bids are in, marketers can focus on complimentary/supplementary services (rather than price) to determine the right ESP for their organization. To address this idea, I propose a “C” level summit among leading ESPs—a meeting to outline ethical principles and pricing models that would be acceptable to (almost) everyone who sends commercial email. Yes there are exceptions.
Given emails cost effective nature, this economic crisis has created the perfect opportunity for the email industry to grow and, the barriers to entry in this industry have been significantly lowered with advancements in technology. We’ve seen entrepreneurial spirit skyrocket with the sprouting of several boutique ESPs and/or “marketing automation” companies, each with a dream of becoming the next John Glenn overnight.. But it remains to be seen if these budding entrepreneurs are willing to navigate the email universe patiently and consider ethical sending and pricing policies. If we ever we want to make meaningful progress in the fight to eradicate spam, a code of ethics among legitimate senders and ESPs must prevail. Once non-regulatory policies among ESPs are reliably transparent, we then can take the next step and determine which marginal clients ESPs/Senders would consider abandoning.
The Commandments of Email
A summit of leading ESPs is the perfect way to thwart cannibalistic pricing models and put the onus on legitimate marketers who will make decisions based on more than just pricing. Call it what you like—ethonomics or ethical based sending practices. The bottom line is that we must encourage our leaders and believe that they will do the right thing for the industry. In this case, doing “the right thing” means setting a good example by creating a set of email commandments that less experienced ESPs can emulate. In order for ESPs to peacefully advance, ethical sending and pricing policies should be paramount.
For example, we know that ISPs are doing everything in their power to ensure that legitimate email lands safely in the inbox. We also know that ESPs continue to collaborate with customers to ensure their lists are not purchased, and to make sure that they are organically grown through various list building strategies. What we don’t have is transparency among ESPs when one underbids the other to gain market share. By massively underbidding each other, we begin to project discomfort and a feeling of anxiety among industry colleagues. Instead, if the “email commandments were in place including reasonable pricing policies, it would be reasonable to think that the marketer chose a particular ESP based on features and services, rather than just price.
If ISPs will continue to develop ways of getting more legitimate mail into the inbox, senders will be encouraged to begin extracting marginal clients from their base portfolio. Senders and ESPs then will be more likely to collectively strive for the eradication of spam, rather than choosing to pad their bottom line by sending suspect email. In a true parallel with our society, we must find ways to quell the temptation of a large payday by abstaining from sending spam-related email.
As our journey for eradicating spam enters then next frontier, we as leading ESPs and Senders must collectively ensure that ethical sending practices and pricing policies are indoctrinated for the greater good of our developing industry.
This post was inspired by George Bilbrey of ReturnPath, Matt Vernhout of ThinData, and Brian Ratzliff of WhatCounts, Inc.