The Most Important, Can’t-Ignore Law of Email Marketing


Hey you! Yes…you, the one sending out all those email newsletters. We need to talk.

I mean, sure, we’ve already talked to some degree. We’ve talked about best practices for email marketing, how email is NOT dead and why it’s actually the Batman to social media’s Robin, but NONE of that matters if you ignore the most important email marketing law of them all. Get this wrong and the rest of it simply doesn’t matter. I can’t believe we haven’t talked about this already.

Do you know what that most important law is?

Do you?

It’s understanding when you’re allowed to add someone to your email list and hit them with a message.

I know what you’re thinking. “This is common sense!” And you would hope it was. But it’s not. I know because currently sitting in my inbox are messages from companies who I never gave permission to spam me. I mean, message me. Lots of them. So perhaps a quick Monday lesson is in order


When Is It Okay To Sign Someone Up For Your Company Newsletter?

  1. When they’ve told you, through a double opt-in, that they want to receive your newsletter and get updates about your company.

When is it NOT Okay To Sign Someone Up For Your Company Newsletter?

  1. After they visited your company’s booth during a trade show and were forced to hand you a business card that contained their email address.
  2. When they gave you their email address for some other purpose other than signing up for an email newsletter. For example, to register on your Web site, to leave a blog comment, to enter a contest, to fill out a contact form.
  3. When you got someone’s email address because you both attended a mutual friend’s wedding and she gave you her business card so you could stay in touch because you went to high school together and she was feeling a bit nostalgic. [True story.]
  4. When you received someone’s email by guessing.  [,…]
  5. When you stole their email address from somewhere else on the Web.
  6. When you purchased their email address from a soulless email list.
  7. Any other reason that does not include them double opting into your email newsletter.

Got it? Because there is no greater way to piss off your customers/potential customers/people who used to be your friends than to sign them up for something without their permission. You invade my inbox with your unsolicited nonsense and you shouldn’t look too surprised when I show up angry at your front door.

With a bat.

We clear? Good.

Your Comments

  • Jon DiPietro

    You should name names. They deserve the embarrassment.

  • netmeg

    Here’s another one, and I’m sure some people will disagree, but – just because I buy something from your site does not mean I want your endless newsletters. If you put a checkbox somewhere, let me opt in (and confirm it!), I might sign up. But if you automatically assume the sales relationship means that you can stalk me three times a week or more with emails that are not directly related to my order, we’re so broken up.

  • Jill Whalen

    Not to mention that many of those same a$$holes make it impossible to get off the “newsletter” (and I use the term lightly) once they’ve added you. Somehow there’s always a database error or the like when you go to unsubscribe. Or the famous “it could take up to 2 weeks for your email address to be removed from our system.” Yeah right.

  • Michael Dorausch

    This practice drives me crazy and I’m glad you addressed it. in my industry in particular it’s gotten real crazy, my spam box is flooded with crap from sales reps, it’s sad.

  • Stephanie Cockerl

    I am a firm believer in giving folks options to keep in touch. Guess what? Its 2011 and email is not the only way. That’s why its important to list social media channels as well. They may like you, but not enough for you to email them weekly.

  • Sully

    Lisa – I recently posted, on a behalf of a friend, about being a spammer. You can show up at his house with a bat and he’ll understand why.

  • Eric

    Add to the list opting out and yet *continuing *to receive their spam.

  • Lannon

    HAHAHA!! Well said! And the same goes for texting and phoning me on my mobile with your stupid sales calls at what always seems to be the worst time! :/

  • Justin Dupre

    Good post! Anyone involved with email marketing should read this.

  • Lea

    Ah, yes – and when the newsletter comes to, clearly telling me either sells their list, or have been hacked (seems more likely) – and the sender can’t understand what I mean when I tell them the list they have bought isn’t clean… (“bought? we didn’t buy a list?!?”)

    I’ve given up the education method. I just write a new filter…

  • Jim Rudnick

    @Lisa….re:”1.After they visited your company’s booth during a trade show and were forced to hand you a business card that contained their email address…” is so so so true….

    I love the ability to just toss in a card to get entered in a “free iPad2” type contest, but yeah…I know that such an entry will always include tons of spam…just the way that non-marketers work…sigh…

    Course, then there’s the thought that anyone who DOES spam me, goes on my “I’d never buy dickey-do-dingo” from them mantra…one that I do live by, eh!



  • Monica Ricci

    I don’t know how many times I’ve tweeted about this. UGH. I spend more time than is reasonable UNsubbing from CRAP I never subscribed to. I’m at a loss as to how I ended up on these lists too, because I don’t shop online THAT much and usually the lists I’m on are people/companies whose products and services I’m not even familiar with. Makes me as crazy as the folks who consistently misplace apostrophes!

  • Amanda

    So true. Funny & true.

  • Henry Louis

    If we follow the above steps, I dont think we would be able to reach out wide audience. I understand that its of no use but we can expect a very little percentage of conversion.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Great post! I was actually just talking about this recently because I find it hard to believe that spam email is at all effective today. The only people that should receive email from marketers are the people that have stated that they want to receive it.

  • DJ Waldow

    Love this (as always).

    One thing: I’ve never been a huge proponent of double-opt in. In fact, I think it’s a terrible idea. To me, it’s analogous with getting someone to say yes to buying your product then emailing them “Are you sure?” Curious why you are a fan…