Unpacking the Differences Between Bulk Email and SPAM

Bulk email should not be confused with SPAM and can rather be described as a similar/generic message sent out to a group of people who have either signed up to receive these communications or perhaps are already an existing customer.

SPAM is any email or communication that you have not agreed to receive or is not from a trusted source.

We unpack these differences below.


SPAM mail (also referred to as junk mail) is often associated with:

  • Anonymity: The address and identity of the sender are concealed
  • Inappropriate Content: The email contains offensive or inappropriate material
  • Unsolicited: The recipient has not agreed to receive email communication from the sender
  • Phishing Scams: The attempt to receive confidential information for malicious reasons by posing as a brand

Internet Services Providers (ISPs) such as Gmail, Yahoo!, Outlook, have systems in place that check whether emails are legitimate. These checks look at a recipient’s engagement, i.e. opens and clicks. If they detect no engagement from the recipient, the ISPs will be more likely to classify the sender as a spammer.

The POPI Act states that for individuals to receive any email communication, they must have either consented to the use of their personal information (opt-in), or there must be an existing relationship between the parties. To read more about the POPI Act, download our Guide to Navigating POPI

Targeted Bulk Email:

Solicited bulk email is still used by many companies and is defined as generic advertising or marketing emails sent out to a large group of people. In most cases, bulk email is never sent more than once, is welcomed by recipients, and is successfully delivered to the inbox.

Email Security

As mentioned earlier, email carries the potential dangers of inappropriate content and phishing. Thankfully ISPs have put methods in place to protect email users.

  • Sender Policy Framework: SPF is an email validation system. It allows receiving email servers to check all incoming mail from a domain. Authorised domains pass the SPF check and move to your inbox.
  • Domain Key Identified Mail: DKIM is one way of detecting spoofed emails. Receiving servers check that all sent mail is authorised by the owner of the domain.
  • Domain-Based Message Authentication: DMARC is designed to support existing inbound email authentication processes of a domain. It works in conjunction with both Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM).
Move Over Generic, And Hello Personalised

Generic bulk email is okay for communicating general company news or making announcements, however, to increase engagement you need to look at a more personalised approach. It’s not always easy to gather this type of data, so here are some ways to move from minor personalised emails to hyper-personalisation. It’s important to remember that you can’t stay generic forever.

93% of companies see an uplift in conversion rates from personalisation. ~ Econsultancy

  • Dear John: Speak directly to an individual subscriber by using their first name. Pull this data from your CRM or ERP system or include a name field to your subscription forms when they sign-up to one of your newsletters.
  • From Email (Your Name): Create a connection with your subscriber by using an email persona as opposed to a company name. For example, receiving an email from [email protected] feels more personal than from [email protected]

    68% of Americans Open Their Emails Based on the “From” Name They See. ~Email List Verify
    Remember: Make sure the from email address is an actual address and that the inbox is monitored for replies. The [email protected] is an ancient practice non-one uses anymore.
  • Subject Line: Remind your subscribers that you’re speaking directly to them with a personalised subject line. Not only does this make your email more personal, it also increases the chances of recipients opening your mail.47% of people open an email based solely on the subject line. ~ business 2 community
  • Subscription Forms: Use subscription forms to gather more insights on your contacts when they sign up to your newsletters. Make sure to keep the form short, such as adding an extra field for them to select an interest. With this information, you can segment your database according to their choices.
  • Behavioural Personalisation: Track your subscribers’ behaviours and interests via email and website analytics to create more targeted messages.
  • Surveys and Competitions: Use surveys to learn more about your subscribers, equipping you with new information about them to segment your bulk email list into specific categories for future personalisation.Alternatively, run a competition where subscribers must update their profiles or select an interest related to your business, to enter the draw. You can then segment your database with the newly acquired details.
  • Data Integration: Merge your CRM and ERP data with your email database. You can then use that existing information to personalise your email communications. For example, the collected data may contain insights regarding where your prospects are in the buyer’s cycle, allowing you to create targeted content using information you already own.
  • Analytics: Use various analysis tools such as Google Analytics tracking, Email Analytics, and Social Analytics to better understand your target market. This information will help guide your content accordingly.
Generic Bulk Email vs Personalised Email

While personalisation is key to driving the best engagement, bulk email can still be used effectively to deliver decent open and click rates. The bulk email approach is beneficial to businesses that do not have enough data or insights about their subscribers to fully personalise their emails.

We compare both approaches, listing their unique differences below.

Generic Bulk Mail Personalised Email
Useful for general marketing and service announcements such as “We’re closing for the holidays” Or “Weekend flash sale”. Used specifically to send relevant, targeted communications based on demographics, interests and behaviours.
Targets large groups of people or an entire database. Focuses on segmented, smaller lists divided into specific categories.
May entice fewer people in the database, who find the content relevant to them. Therefore, it may have a lower engagement rate. Speaks directly to contacts and addresses their content requirements according to their choices. Therefore, has a higher engagement rate.
Allows for sharing of generic thought-leadership content, building brand recognition and educating subscribers. Builds an enthusiastic audience from emails that cater to a subscriber’s niche interests.
Doesn’t require much personalisation or list segmentation. Automation can help send tailor-made campaigns to the right people, at the right time.


The goal for email marketing is to create an engaged audience, keep your brand top of mind, drive the right quality of leads and strengthen your relationships with your customers. By gathering enough data, you can create highly-targeted marketing campaigns that appeal to your target markets individual needs and interests.

Sending generic email can cause low engagement rates, which in turn could affect your sender reputation. A bad reputation could lead to your company being marked as a spammer, and your emails going straight to junk.