Attention Email Marketers: M3AAWG Best Common Practices Guide Version 3 Is Worth Your Review!

Recently M3AAWG (the Messaging, Mobile and Malware Anti-Abuse Working Group) released version 3 of their Sender Best Common Practices. M3AAWG is the key industry body that includes mailbox providers, filter and anti-abuse companies, social networks and email senders. The members span the globe and are a veritable who’s who of messaging companies.

M3AAWG’s best common practices (BCP) define a set of procedures and messaging implementations between senders, including email marketers, and recipients (mailbox providers). Though both of these groups want much the same thing there is often a disconnect in language. As J.D. Falk, a long time M3AAWG contributor, once said, “Marketers want to talk about deliverability. MAAWG wants to talk about abuse”. Despite the language disconnect there are very good reasons for marketers to take notice of these practices and to understand how they relate to permission-based email and their marketing efforts. The BCP reflects the consensus of mailbox providers on Commercial Electronic Messaging (substantially the same message sent to many recipients) and the recommendations will make their way into the terms of service of many of the largest email service providers.

There are two core themes – transparency and trustworthiness – which establish the BCP’s central theme and should guide the email marketing community.

1.    Transparency
Mailbox providers, blocklist operators, filter providers and most importantly customers are looking for transparency from marketers. It may seem obvious that customers react negatively to deceptive marketing practices; ensuring transparency is not necessarily universal but it should be.

Transparency requires the effective management of marketing tools and process from start to finish.

2.    Trustworthiness
If transparency is the foundation, trust is the objective.

There have always been unscrupulous marketers that engage in various forms of deception; from bait and switch through exaggeration to outright lies. It’s not unusual though for marketers who intend to do the right thing to mistakenly end up misleading or confusing customers with practices such as, but not limited to, obfuscating or hiding opt-out links, sending from addresses that you can’t reply too or aggressively cross-promoting other products and brands the recipient might not be familiar with as an example.

Trustworthiness involves placing the customer’s expectations and wishes front and center which can present a challenge for marketers when those wishes may run counter to business objectives focused on practical results.

In the M3AAWG best common practices these two principles are implemented through specific activities and behaviors by senders that fall into two primary categories.

1.    Infrastructure
From WHOIS (domain registration) and DNS (sending domain and hostname) information to DKIM (email authentication) and DMARC (sender policy) the sender’s infrastructure should be configured to clearly identify the responsible sending party.

This may seem esoteric and technical but the legitimacy of any email depends on knowing with confidence who actually sent it, this is easily accomplished by following email authentication standards such as SPF and DKIM. As a marketer, it is important to bring the infrastructure requirements to the attention of your internal IT team and to the attention of your Email Service Provider (ESP) alike.

2.    Data and List management
Mailbox providers and many legitimate marketers agree that individuals should only receive email they knowingly opted in to receive. This requires effective data and list management. Poor security or lax data collection practices reduce transparency and undermine trust. Section 2.1-2.2 of the M3AAWG BCP covers the associated best common practices with data collection around opt-in to improve trust and transparency.

M3AAWG has always advocated for explicit consent as the standard for sending email. The BCP recognizes the complexity and subtlety of address collection and permission management and goes into detail to assist senders in avoiding common permission pitfalls. It also re-emphasizes M3AAWG’s position that email appending (using physical mailing address, or other demographic information, to identify a user’s email address without direct electronic consent with the intention of sending commercial emails) is an abusive practice.

What may be a surprise to many marketers is that the best common practices say nothing about the content or frequency of email. When, what and how often is not a question M3AAWG addresses, another indication of their focus on abuse rather than engagement & deliverability, and there may be applicable legal constraints preventing the application of such standards to business.

The EEC Advocacy Subcommittee encourages marketers and their suppliers to review the practices defined in the M3AAWG document and send us your concerns and questions. We believe these new practices can serve as a basis to improving relationships between senders and receivers; enhancing deliverability for companies that have legitimate delivery challenges and improving the security, safety and overall satisfaction of email recipients all over the world.

Contributing Authors:
Derek Harding | @DerekBHarding
eec Advocacy Subcommittee Member
Managing Director, Javelin Labs
Javelin Marketing Group

Len Shneyder | @LenShneyder
eec Education & Events Committee Chair
eec Advocacy Subcommittee Member
Director of Industry Relations, Message Systems
Message Systems

Matthew Vernhout | @emailkarma
eec Advocacy Subcommittee Chair
Chief Privacy Officer, Inbox Marketer
Inbox Marketer Inc.