The Biggest Threat to Email Marketing (and Why You Should Come to Washington)

All of our jobs are all in real danger. The email channel and even online marketing as we know it are facing serious threats, and not necessarily from forces hostile to marketing.

I’m entering my second year as chairman of the Direct Marketing Association, and GetResponse’s Jim Ducharme asked a question that reminded me of this during last week’s Email Evolution Conference in Miami Beach. “What’s the biggest threat facing email marketers in 2013?” (You can see the whole interview here.)

That’s easy: The amount of pending legislation and regulation all over the world—on both the collection and use of data for marketing purposes—is absolutely terrifying.

The problem is that it’s practically impossible for lawmakers to keep pace with the speed of data technology and its effect on marketplaces and even consumers’ daily lives around the world. The problem is that lawmaking, especially here in the US, historically begins on the narrowest, most local level.

Think about the early days of Washington, when a congressman representing a random district in a random state would talk to constituents, and they’d introduce complaints or ideas and say, “There oughtta be a law…” It was generally about something straightforward, and the congressman would agree, “Yes, there oughtta be a law,” and that was that. They made a law.

The problem is that’s happening now in a digital world, but it still works more or less the same way: A congressperson in that same random district hears “there oughtta be a law” from someone who’s had a bad experience with a website. Sure enough everyone agrees “there oughtta be a law” and the process begins to address a local issue that may well be legitimate. The difference is that now there’s suddenly a piece of proposed legislation with incredibly far-reaching implications for companies and consumers around the world. Today well-intentioned lawmaking has unintended consequences that can cripple entire industries.

These are the issues that the DMA confronts as our industry’s association of record, and these are the themes we’ll focus on during DMA in DC – a three-day education and advocacy program in Washington starting on March 12. Please join us, add your voice to the debate over consumer data, learn about legislation that can radically alter your business, and meet face-to-face with members of congress to help them understand our complex marketing landscape.

The implications of local legislation in a global system are immense. It’s easily the biggest threat to email marketing today—there isn’t a meaningful #2. If you aren’t actively involved in policy discussions, DMA in DC is a great chance to get up to speed and shape the future of your business, to fight to keep the channel open, and to help protect all of our jobs.