A couple days ago, I got an email from GoDaddy—which is where I buy domains—telling me that I could buy a domain that doesn’t end in .com basically for pocket change. This came at an opportune time because I’d be mulling over the prospect of buying a miniaturized version of my website’s domain so that I could create my own, personalized shortlinks. Is this necessary? Not really. It’s just an idea that I stumbled upon and I felt like it would be a neat way to make my website look a bit more “legit”. So I bought the domain, set it up, and almost immediately the unsolicited marketing email came.
Anyone who’s purchased a domain before will probably know exactly what I’m talking about. “We noticed that you recently purchased ‘LibrariansGoneWild.com’ and it just so happens that we offer all these services you definitely need.” These solicitations start to slow a bit over time although I’m still receiving unsolicited marketing email every now and then for DaneOLeary.com, which I’ve had for over a year.
Again, I’ve had this new domain for no more than two days, and I’ve probably received close to a dozen of these emails since then. I did have the option to pay about $30 more for the privilege of not having my name and contact information attached to the new domain, but if I’m going to pay more than three times the cost of the actual domain for privacy — and no real guarantee that I wouldn’t still get solicitations—I might as well not even buy the domain in the first place. Especially when you consider what I had planned to do with this one.
The email I received today was from a representative of an “8 year old tech company” with its presence being “in United States, United Kingdom and India.” And yes, the actual email is missing words and punctuation. The company—obscurely named The Team Matrix Inc—appears to be offering themselves as WordPress managers who would keep everything running smoothly, but the problem with that is it’s unnecessary. More websites run on WordPress than any other platform, and it’s arguably the most user-friendly content management system there is, requiring next to no upkeep. Essentially, they want paid for a service that doesn’t really have anything to offer.
They also mention offering “open source technologies”, which can be obtained and used by anyone due to being open source. In my favorite line of the email where they’re trying to distill what they offer into a single sentences: “We help Start-ups and Concept based app’s to come alive on online on formatted & win a win equity model”.
Why is unsolicited marketing email a problem?
Believe it or not, this isn’t about The Team Matrix Inc. After reading the unsolicited email they sent me, I felt a number of things at once. I was offended, annoyed, disappointed, and I also felt bad for them. Many of these feelings applied to email marketing as a whole rather than The Team Matrix Inc specifically. These days, almost everyone has some sort of service to offer and are trying to find better, more effective ways to market them. With many considering email to be an outdated if not obsolete medium for marketing, it seems like a fruitless pursuit to litter the inboxes with unsolicited—and grammatically incorrect and confusingly vague—correspondence that’s more likely to give a bad impression of your business or services that it is to generate leads.
So this gave me the idea to address this issue of email solicitation and explain why it’s such a terrible and potentially counterproductive marketing strategy.
When a business sends you unsolicited email that’s marketing services you’ve never asked about and probably don’t even need, you probably make a couple assumptions about that business. For instance, this “strategy” of sending emails to every address you can get your hands on conveys desperation and ignorance. Clearly, this is someone who either doesn’t know how or doesn’t care to distinguish prospective customers and leads from the rest of the web population.
From a consumer perspective, I don’t want to be contacted by a business regarding their services unless I’ve given that business some kind of indication that I’m interested. And I feel like that’s not an unreasonable stance. I respect a business more when they can distinguish interest from existence, and it gives the impression that the business can offer me something of real value.
Sending out an unsolicited email advertisement to anyone and everyone rather than just to potentially interested leads—AKA people who have already shown some type of interest in your company/services—gives the impression that you basically see the entire population of web users as fish in a barrel. We imagine you happening across some database of emails and thinking “Jackpot. We’re sure to get some business from this.” Again, I mention desperation. This shows absolutely zero marketing prowess or savvy, which is going to be more respectable even when I’m not interested in what you’re offering.
There’s a very fine line between marketing emails and spam. I’d even go so far to say that to the average person—someone who isn’t particularly knowledgeable of web marking strategies—wouldn’t usually differentiate the two. Let’s take a look at the actual definition of spam: A Google search yields the following: “(n) irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of recipients; (v) send the same message indiscriminately to (large numbers of recipients) on the Internet”.
According to Merriam-Webster, which I consider an authority on the English language, spam is “[simple def.] e-mail that is not wanted; e-mail that is sent to large numbers of people and that consists mostly of advertising”. However, the full definition is: “unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses”.
For good measure, I’ve also got a definition from Webopedia, which is “an online tech dictionary for IT professionals, educators and students.” Per Webopedia, spam is “considered to be electronic junk mail or junk newsgroup postings. Some people define spam even more generally as any unsolicited [marketing] email.”
Looking at these definitions, it would be fair to say that any unsolicited marketing email is actually spam, and there are strict laws about spam. In most instances, a person must provide some type of consent before business can send them marketing emails or its considered unlawful spam. There are a number of specific email marketing guidelines set by the Federal Trade Commission that companies, businesses, and marketers must abide by in order to avoid potential legal action. Yes, unsolicited marketing emails and spam can result in some lawsuits and hefty fines.
The average person or consumer is distrustful of advertisements, marketing, and sales people in general. In more cases than not, unsolicited email marketing is going to actually put off more people who might’ve been prospective customers than it will generate leads where there previously were none. When I get these types of emails, no matter what they’re for I throw them into my spam folder. Sending me unsolicited advertisements when I’ve given you no consent and have shown no interest in your company or services is the most sure way to get me to disregard your company altogether and possibly even drive me toward your competitors in the event that I ever were to need the services you offer. And I doubt I’m alone in this.
What’s the take-away from this?
You may be wondering why I’ve jumped onto my soapbox regarding unethical email solicitations. The reason is because I feel like there are more and more people trying to find underhanded ways to advertise to a wider audience, and it seems that these people are unaware that there are substantially more drawbacks and pitfalls to this approach than there are gains.
First, nobody wants to feel like they’re just the next notch in your revenue bedpost, and that’s exactly how unsolicited marketing email makes people feel. Clearly, you’re not interested enough in your prospective clientele to put in the little bit of extra time and work it would take to market only to those who give consent or who are interested. It’s just too aggressive and presumptuous and surely won’t give anyone a positive impression of your business.
Second, the legality of sending unsolicited email marketing is questionable at best. No matter how you slice it, if you’re sending email ads to people who have never consented or shown interest in your business, products, or services, you shouldn’t be sending them solicitations.
Thirdly, there’s something respectable about an intelligent marketing strategy. I almost don’t even mind receiving advertisements from businesses I’ve interacted with before. I’ve made purchases on Amazon and I’m fine with the advertisements they’ve sent me. And there are a number of business I’ve found online and became interested in something they offer, so I gave them my email—and consent—for the purpose of sending me information about services they offer. However, I never want to be contacted by random businesses that got my email by some underhanded or questionable means.
As an entrepreneur who is still developing a marketing strategy, it’s important that any advertisements or marketing that prospective customers receive is respectful. I would never want them to think that I see them as dollar signs rather than as people who may or may not need the services I offer. Additionally, I disagree that email is obsolete. I feel like email has largely taken the place of traditional, postal mail and is how most people receive utility, insurance, and credit card bills and so on. If it was an obsolete medium, these email solicitations wouldn’t be such a big deal.
In closing, I mostly just wanted to encourage my fellow businesspersons to respect your prospective customers, leads, and non-leads equally. Unsolicited email marketing have much more potential to harm than to help. Your business is going to grow more—and have a much better reputation—when you stop thinking in terms of the number of people you’re reaching and, instead, start thinking about the quality of your communication with the people you do reach.