Build or Buy: The Ethics of Mailing Lists

mailing list ethics

Should you spam your customers?

Did you know you can purchase a mailing list? You can buy postal mailing lists or lists of e-mail addresses. You can even buy targeted lists and go after specific demographics. And then you can send your marketing messages to anyone on the lists you have purchased.

If you’ve ever wondered why you receive e-mails from companies you’ve never heard of — for products and services you have no interest in — now you know how it happened. Someone got your address, put it on a list, and sold it off. These types of e-mails are called spam or junk mail. The term spam refers to unsolicited and unwanted e-mails, usually sent in bulk; junk mail is used for both physical and electronic messages that are unsolicited and unwanted.

If you’re lucky you get only a few pieces of spam mail per week. If you’re not so lucky, you might find yourself spending a lot time deleting spam messages.

As a small business owner or independent professional, you get to decide what kind of business you want to run. Do you want to annoy hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of people in order to catch a few fish in your net and likely damage your credibility in the process? Or do you want to establish your business as trustworthy and ethical?

Spam, Trust, and Ethics

First let’s differentiate between spamming and cold-calling. Finding people who may want your products and services and reaching out to them personally is perfectly reasonable. It may also be reasonable to purchase a list and send out feelers — asking the recipients if they’d like to continue hearing from you and then letting them choose whether to opt in. These actions are within the bounds of ethical business behavior.

On the other hand, bombarding countless people who never gave you their e-mail addresses with constant e-mails about products and services they don’t want erodes trust in your company. The very act of annoying people makes them less likely to patronize your business. And customers are becoming increasingly aware of shady marketing practices; they’re following best practices for consumers by not clicking on links from unfamiliar senders, training their e-mail apps to filter junk mail, and issuing complaints to consumer watchdog groups.

Small businesses already have a tough time competing in a marketplace that is often dominated by big, powerful corporations. Establishing trust and credibility by practicing good business ethics and refraining from spamming prospective customers is a smart and effective way to do business.

Why You Should Build, Not Buy, Your List

Building a list is harder than buying a list. It takes time and requires a lot of elbow grease. You have to reach out to your first few subscribers and encourage them to sign up, one by one. Maybe you get ten subscribers in the first month. In the second month you add fifteen. In the third month you gain twenty but lose five. But after a year, your list has been formed and is growing; it’s got a solid foundation of recipients who have chosen to receive your messages and who want to hear from you.

That means you’re creating a marketing channel that speaks directly to your ideal customers, people who want what you’re selling. That’s smart and ethical marketing!

Scribizzy provides website and marketing services to small businesses and independent professionals, and we can help you set up and build your mailing list and then develop an e-mail marketing campaign that will help your business succeed. Contact us to learn more.

About Melissa Donovan

Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the Founder and Editor of Writing Forward and the author of over six books.

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