7 Minute Read

Ethical Email Marketing: Spam is for Breakfast, Not Your Inbox

By Kendra Tallman

Okay, so I’ve never actually tried spam and I can’t really speak to whether or not it actually belongs on your breakfast plate. However, I can certainly say that I’ve received my fair share of email spam. And guess what? Nobody likes it – especially not ethical email marketers. One of my very favorite articles from email masters Really Good Emails is “How To Not Be Gross,” and ultimately, your level of grossness ultimately comes down to ethics.

Ethical email marketing can do great things for your business. Have you heard that ROI stat yet? For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you could make $44 back. Unfortunately, bad (and by bad, I mean unethical) email marketing can also screw you over big time. It can hurt your brand reputation, turn away potential customers, and even get your company in trouble with the law.

Good news! There’s an easy solution: Just be ethical. The following guidelines will help you out a bit.

Bad #EmailMarketing can be really, really bad. Here's how not to mess up: Share on X

#1. Follow the Law

This might seem obvious, but if you’ve ever been the victim of an email barrage you can’t opt out of, you know there are still some shady marketers out there. The CAN-SPAM Act, passed in 2003, has some pretty clear guidelines on what you can and cannot send in your email marketing campaigns. Essentially, the guidelines say:

  • Don’t lie to recipients
  • Tell them who you are
  • Let them opt out of receiving your messages
  • You’re responsible for following the law even if you hire an email marketing agency

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Be honest, take responsibility for your actions. Let people unsubscribe. But I guess if it were really that obvious, they wouldn’t have needed to pass the act in the first place.

Psst. You may have to let people unsubscribe, but you can limit the number of people who want to. 78% of consumers have unsubscribed from emails because a brand was sending too many emails- know what email marketing frequency works for you!

#2. Add Value

Now that we’ve covered what you absolutely must do for an ethical email marketing campaign, let’s talk about the things you should be doing. Strictly speaking, you could send an email that simply says “Buy My Product” with a picture and a bit of copy to round it out. That doesn’t really do it for most readers, though. In most cases (and this goes double for B2B marketing), you have to add a little something to sweeten the pot. In fact, 96% of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders.

Want to be ethical? Add value to your #EmailMarketing campaigns: Share on X

What does that extra value look like? Great content marketing involves a couple of different options:

  • Blogging
  • White papers
  • Printables
  • Checklists
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts

Adding any one of these to an email campaign shows your potential buyer that you’re not just trying to squeeze money out of them; You’re actually trying to help them improve their lives. That’s ethical.

Psst. Content marketing takes a big time investment if you want to do it right. Make sure your content marketing efforts are worth it by promoting, collecting information and keeping the sales cycle moving.

#3. Be Consistent and Predictable

Let say first that I don’t mean you should send your email campaigns every week on the same day, at the same time, forever and ever. If you want to reach your audience an optimal time, you’re probably going to have to do some testing. Did you know that currently, 205 billion emails are sent every day? In order to cut through the noise, you’re going to have turn finding your perfect send time into a science.

However, your email campaigns should never come as an absolute surprise and they should always be recognizable as your company’s branding. A consistent look and tone is one way you build a relationship with a consumer. In fact, 61% of consumers enjoy receiving promotional emails weekly. They come know and trust you through emails, and that’s impossible when you’re all over the place.

Psst. Branding doesn’t have to be a big hassle. Just check out these easy tips on turning stock imagery into branded materials that will work for you.


Purchasing and selling email lists is illegal under the CAN-SPAM Act, but it leaves a little loophole for “rented” lists. While not strictly illegal, sending people on a rented list is not recommended. Most of these people are unaware their address is being used in a rented list, and no one is happy to get emails they didn’t sign up for. That’s bad for them, it’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the reputation of email marketers everywhere.

Besides, only 12% of marketers reported a “great” return when they invested in traditional list rental. Collecting addresses on your own (through effective content marketing, networking, etc) may take longer, but you will have better results and a better reputation in the end.

So that’s it. Follow these ethical email marketing guidelines to ensure your campaigns end up in your recipients’ inboxes, not their spam folders. And if you need a little more help, Red Branch Media’s Email Marketing team can get you where you need to be.

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