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How Not to Be a Dirty, Rotten Spammer
28th April 2015 • Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer • Sonia Simone
00:00:00 00:21:23

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Email is an incredibly effective way to nurture prospects and leads, and pave the path for those folks to make a purchase. But so much marketing email goes horribly, horribly wrong. Here’s how to get a whole lot better at it …

If there’s one thing nearly everybody hates, it’s spam. It wastes our time, it insults our intelligence, and sometimes it can even trick or scam us.

But not all spam is created on purpose. Lots of well-meaning businesses are creating ugly, hated spam with their marketing, without intending to at all. This session talks about how to create email marketing that your prospects, leads, and customers will actually want to open and read.

In this 22-minute episode, I talk about:

  • The two definitions of spam, and why you have to avoid both
  • Why spam sent one at a time is still spam (everyone hates this, don’t do it)
  • The right time and way to make an offer in your email marketing
  • What to do if your list has gone cold
  • What to do if you’re doing everything right and you’re still getting marked as spam

Listen to Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

How Not to Be a Dirty, Rotten Spammer

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free, 14-day trial at

Sonia Simone: Hey, there. Greetings, super friends! My name is Sonia Simone, and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and chief content officer for Copyblogger Media.

I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules as long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people. This podcast is your official, pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.

And today, I’m going to talk about spam. More specifically, how not to be a dirty, rotten spammer.

The Two Definitions of Spam, And Why You Have to Avoid Both

There is, of course, an official definition of spam. It’s unsolicited, bulk email that has a commercial or a malicious intent.

The United States 2004 CAN-SPAM Law, as well as other laws in countries all over the world, make it illegal to send commercial email with a misleading header or without some kind of a postal address, without a way to unsubscribe, etcetera, etcetera.

The definitions vary somewhat from law to law, country to country, but theoretically, if you’re sending email marketing to somebody who asked for it and you’re not defrauding them, then it’s not technically spam.

That’s all good and well, but there is another definition of spam that you need to know about, and it’s what I call “The Aunt Frances Guide to Spam.”

Go ask your Aunt Frances what spam is.

Or your favorite, perhaps not-so-technologically-savvy relative or friend. And you’ll get something like, “Ugh. It’s those awful messages they send me from that place.” You could finish that sentence with any one of a hundred companies — Amazon, eBay, GoDaddy, the Thanksgiving turkey farm, the place that she bought a fruitcake from last year, etc. The list goes on and on.

And these companies probably have legal permission to send her email because she either agreed to it once upon a time, or because she s already a customer.

Technically, this is not spam. Aunt Frances was hip enough to register “” with GoDaddy, but she’s not hip enough to know or care about official definitions of spam.

If it s getting on her nerves, it s spam. That’s how she defines it, and that’s how we have to define it.

She’s not going to unsubscribe, because somebody told her that she’s going to get more spam if she does. But she will very triumphantly “mark it as spam” with her email provider.

Then, the email provider will start to look at the sender like, “You know? You’re getting a lot of complaints here.” If a high enough percentage of the subscribers mark the messages as spam, then things start to automatically go to junk filters, even though there are raving fans out there waiting breathlessly for the latest message from that company.

And there are some email providers — Hotmail is notorious for this, Yahoo is notorious for this, Gmail has been observed to do this — that will just throw the messages away. They won’t even put them in the spam filter, they’ll just get rid of them. The senders are following the letter of the law, but they re still road kill.

Now, if you’re GoDaddy, you can afford this. Besides, if you’re GoDaddy, I don’t care what happens to you because I can’t stand you.

But if you’re a small business you have to behave better than GoDaddy, which is fortunately not setting the bar all that high.

As a business that sends out email — and you should send out email, it’s a fantastic medium for your marketing message, and it’s a fantastic medium for creating better rapport with your audience. But if you’re going to send email, you have to really hold in your head two definitions of spam.

One involves that complex set of legal regulations and loopholes and all the rest of it that apply to email marketing. You have to know what the laws are for your country, and you have to know what the laws are for the countries that you tend to send email messages to.

The U.K. is a little different from Canada, and Canada s a little different from the U.S., if you’re sending email in English. The probably more important definition of spam is “Crappy email I don’t want.” If you want to send out email to more than a handful of customers, you’ve got to live up to both standards. Just complying with the letter of the law isn’t enough. You have to be better than the law.

Here are my thoughts on being absolutely white hat, aboveboard, and super-duper ethical and effective with your email marketing.

Why Spam Sent One at a Time Is Still Spam (Everyone Hates This, Don’t Do It)

I’m going to start with the first one. If you send spam one at a time, it’s still spam. I did an informal Twitter poll, and that showed that 1,000% of people detest being cold-emailed by salespeople who have taken no time to learn anything about their company.

For example, I get email from salespeople who have no idea what my company does. I get email from salespeople who try and sell me solutions that we have repeatedly written about being ethically opposed to. I’ve talked to a couple of people on Twitter who get cold email from salespeople to sell them something that their own company already does.

These are salespeople that have a list of emails that they’ve gotten somewhere, and it’s just like cold calling. They’re just taking a shot into the darkness.

I want to tell you a story about a friend of mine. She used to be an in-the-field salesperson. I won’t tell you what for, because I want to protect her privacy, but she had a certain number of people that she sold to. This was a product that you would sell in multiples to the same office. It was a product used by professional services offices. She sold about three times more in dollars than the next most successful salesperson.

Her sales manager called her into the office and said, “I noticed that you make half the sales calls that the next most successful sales person does, and I want you to make at least as many sales calls as he does.”

She said, “Did you miss the part where I sold three times as many dollars as he does?”

He said, “No, but just think of what you could do if you made as many sales calls as this other guy in the office.”

She said:

Think about how much he could sell if he spent as much time understanding our clients, understanding what they need, and working on their relationships, and nurturing the relationship with each individual office the way that I do.

She was making half as many sales calls because the sales calls were taking twice as long.

She was getting to know people. She was involved with them. She understood their office. She understood what they needed, and she bonded with them about the topic of their business. She made a lot more money because she put a lot more thought and attention into each individual person that she sold to.

In the email world, this means don’t send out 100 cold spam email messages even though you craft them one at a time. Send out 25 (or 5) that are actually well researched and are actually thoughtful. You’ve looked through that company’s website, and if they have a blog you’ve read their blog. You actually understand what they do and what they sell, then you’re going to have some kind of a meaningful conversation with them about what they actually need.

Yes, sales is a numbers game, but you have to play the numbers game intelligently.

Now, I understand that sales professionals have managers looking over their shoulders who want them to hit certain metrics. If you have a sales manager who doesn’t agree and who thinks that you need to just do the email equivalent of dial-and-smile, then you might want to considering switching companies and organizations.

Or you might want to consider maybe putting a copy of John Jantsch s latest book on selling into their hands to get some smarter approaches going.

Email that you craft one at a time — “Dear Business Owner,” or even “Dear Sonia” — but then it goes on to reveal you know nothing about what I do, it’s still spam. I hate it. It’s gives a horrible impression of your company. It gives a horrible impression of you, and it doesn’t work. I just mark them as spam. I hate them.

Smart Things to Do in Your Bulk Email

Now, we’re going to move on to what we would normally talk about with spam, which is email that you send to a list of people. This is normally handled by a service. Some places do it in-house. A service does a lot. It can do a lot of things for you to just manage your deliverability and all that good stuff.

The first thing that matters is you need to make yourself useful in your email.

I’m going to bet that you’re probably already working toward this in your communication in your marketing, and it’s a cornerstone of content marketing. If it’s not useful and relevant and meaningful to your audience, don’t send it, because it’s not going to do anything. It’s not going to get you anywhere near your business goals.

If everything you send benefits your readers, they’re a lot less likely to get cranky with you and click that dreaded spam button. It’s that idea that you train people every time they click through on something you send them, that there’s something worthwhile on the other end of the click.

It’s a good article. It’s an interesting recipe. It’s some tips. It’s maybe well written and funny. It makes them smile. It makes them think about something.

I think the reason that my friend was so smart in her sales position is because she happens to be an incredibly skillful dog trainer and she really understands behaviorism. And she understands that everything we do with the dog, or member of our family, or a colleague, or a vendor, or a prospect — every action we take is training that other being in some way.

You expect something from us in training and shaping a certain behavior, so you want to shape the behavior in the people who get your email and get all of your marketing, that there’s something beneficial on the other side of it. It’s a reward.

You can very quickly train your audience to not look at your email anymore. And you can do that by sending them a lot of irrelevant material. You can do that by only sending them pitch after pitch after pitch. You can do that by making your content not that compelling. It’s just not interesting. It might be difficult to read. Your font size might be tiny, and people might get a headache reading it. There are all kinds of ways that we train people to ignore our email.

I’ll give you an example. I signed up for an email list about what I would consider to be serious issues, like protecting net neutrality. This was a political list. This was a list that was calling on me to take action in a political arena around the issue of net neutrality.

And then they bug me with piddling stuff like Facebook retargeting ads, and they try and work up the sense of outrage over pretty, trivial, silly things that are not very important.

What that does is it trains me not to open their email, because I start to think of them as silly, trivial, and time-wasting. They haven’t spoken to what they originally talked about doing: protecting a position that I care about.

Every email you send has to have something valuable for readers, otherwise, don’t send it. If you’re just going to send it to pitch your stuff and benefit yourself, then that’s not going to work. Just think about it. Think about the email that you open. Now, that’s a very good exercise.

Look at your own email in-box. Scan it every day, and watch for, “What are the things that actually get me to open the email?” And, more specifically, “What got sent to me today that I clicked on even though it’s not from a colleague, it’s not about a work question, it’s not from my mom or my sister who I might want to talk to? What commercial messages actually managed to capture my attention and make me click and intrigue me?”

An Important Note

Very important here: I am not telling you to be afraid to sell.

Business solves problems. A relevant offer is valuable for readers.

When the Goulet Pen Company sends me an email about a new color of ink for my fountain pens, they’re trying to sell me ink. Right? That’s a sales offer.

It’s also highly relevant. I am definitely all over that. I want to know all about it.

When Sephora, the makeup company, sends me a pitch, because of the nature of that business — and this would be similar for art, shoes, any kind of purchase that’s made for pleasure — the offer is valuable.

I’m like, “Oooh, shiny! A new color of light pink lipstick that can join the 42 others in my drawer! Yeah, sign me up.”

Even if that’s not the kind of business you’re in, an email list exists to ask an audience to do something — vote, sign a petition, buy something, what have you.

The Right Time and Way to Make an Offer in Your Email Marketing

You actually do want to make an offer to take that action pretty early and keep your offer visible. Otherwise you run the risk of turning into “free guy,” and then it’s jarring when you do make the offer. It won’t be as effective and it will irritate people because they’ve come to expect that you give everything away for free and you don’t ever make offers.

Do make offers. Make them regularly. They should be a regular part of your mix, but they shouldn’t be the only thing you email. You shouldn’t be a jerk about it, and you should always honor the original intention that person had when they signed up for your list.

Incidentally, if you want to ask a question about email marketing or pick my brain on any aspect of email marketing or content marketing, drop a comment into the blog post for this episode, and I would be happy to answer it in a future podcast.

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