Blog/If cold email isn’t ethical – marketing isn’t ethical!

It feels nasty when you’re working for lead generation ROI so hard that you start sacrificing your integrity. But you need more leads for your company – what can you do?

You’ll ask why that’s relevant. It’s because I saw an interesting discussion on inbound.org lately. This time, the community of marketing pro’s tackled a specific case of using cold emails in business.

The full discussion is in this link. What I want to do in this article is add my two cents to the topic, since it is quite close to my heart and wallet (cold email lead generation is what we do at RightHello).

Like business in general, any marketing strategy can be done ethically – or not. And you’re completely in control of that.

Professional cold emailing doesn’t go for quantity

Jonathan is the author of the thread, and he asked whether scraping emails and sending bulk messages would be ethical in this case:

question about cold email ethical

In my answer (a bit belated, I admit), I gave a short explanation of when cold emailing isn’t spamming:

cold emailing isn't spam

Marketing=targeting, whether you set traps (inbound) or approach directly (outbound)

Matt Biskup wrote a neat quote that belongs on the back of a bestselling book. There are plenty similar metaphors in the marketing community.

matt about ethic in marketing

That’s because online marketing allows you to find, and directly approach people that exactly fit your customer profile.

And doing any less than that is sloppy.

This applies to any marketing strategy. You can do content marketing in an unethical way. Teasing a little bit of value on your blog with hugely effective titles and click-baits, just to smother visitors with sign-up pop-ups to collect as much data as possible.

Don’t know who your target customer should be? You might learn that no strategy works for you until you do – you’ll be using a shotgun… to fire blanks.

But you can scope out the best potential customers before you start shooting. And directly approach the people that might need you the most, without much hustle and bustle.

Not everyone has time to google your content – but they might need you right now

issues in inbound mailing

Few people like reaching out directly to others with new business offers – the stigma of annoying door-to-door salespeople.

You should absolutely make sure people can find you online, interact with your content, and leave contact data on your website. It’s what I’m doing now, it works (hard to work out though), results vary but they’re pretty good overall.

But some clients don’t want to look for your company – some don’t have time for detailed research.

And RightHello isn’t big enough to be popping up on top in google searches for “lead generation” (DAMN that keyword is pricey in adWords, you can check it if you don’t believe me). Without cold emails, we’d be missing out on a lot of opportunity.

Like customers who aren’t sure what to look for. Or those that can’t make up their mind on a vendor. Both sure need a solution now!

If it’s ethically shady for you to “just assume” that, hear me out. You should send cold emails that are 100% transparent, from the subject line until the footer.

Then, say you’re mistaken and send an email to someone who doesn’t need you. One of few things will happen:

  • you don’t get a reply – email unread or in trash, someone knew from the subject line alone that they won’t buy now, which is awesome! We’ve received plenty of emails a month (quarter, half, even a full year) after sending our last message from people saying they finally might need us
  • they reply to one of your emails, saying they’re not interested – you stop sending, apologise and thank them
  • you manage to make them laugh or give other value – they nicely respond saying they don’t need you now, but you either “made their day” or they’ll “remember about you” (happens all the time!)

You do cold emailing on a scale of 300 new contacts per month. You initiate an email chain to 100 people every week, so new introductions and continuous followups (up to 8) are sent over the next month or two.

Spam laws? Ashwin Ramasamy wrote a great full answer with conclusions from analysing spam laws, but his general conclusion was (and I’m 100% with him on this):

emails is not a spam

This scale isn’t big enough for you to enrage a large group of people. Emails are personalised and clear, so recipients can instantly decide whether they’re worth reading.

You’ve done your research, and for each person you approach you know that both of you could benefit from a deal.

You can solve someone’s problem immediately if you manage to reach them at the perfect time, when they need you the most.

And the resulting ROI can reach 40 to 1 (considering size of deal vs costs of running a campaign).

Professional cold email vs spammy email

A spammy email has no personalisation, author uses tricks to get attention. It’s content is unconclusive, unclear and could be sent to all inboxes in the world and still deliver little to zero positive marketing effect:

example of spam message

But when:

a)you can see what email’s about from the subject line alone,
b)it’s short, to the point, showcases clear benefit for recipient, and
c)it’s pleasant to read and not intrusive,

then it’s a whole different ballgame.

good cold email

Your clients’ problems are your problems too. The faster you can solve them, the better for everyone.

Wanna generate leads ethically? Don’t be an asshole

/EDIT: My original ending to the post is below, but I really love this comment by Luke Avedon, which nicely sums up what I wanted to write about in this article:

answer luke avedon

Whenever you think whether your marketing strategy is ethical or not, just ask:

Would I consider someone an asshole if they did this to me?

Marketing strategies don’t offend people – people offend people.

Doing inbound marketing also involves an element of balancing the “annoying but effective”, with the “awesome but unprofitable”. You might piss off a few people with your pop-ups, ads, as you might with your cold emails.

But if your intention is honest, valuable, mutually profitable business – don’t be afraid to use both inbound strategies, and outbound like cold emailing. The latter gives you an opportunity to showcase your communication skills (hugely important, are you kidding me?), approach to business and pure value that you can provide.

Send a few hundred emails, but to the right people and with the right message – and you will get awesome deals out of this, I promise you.

Be an asshole and bulk-spam random email lists – well, there will be nothing awesome about it. You’ll just be an asshole!