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January 11, 2009

Why violating Seth's email rules is inhuman

by Josh Bernoff

Seth Godin just published his 14 rules on what not to do in an email. The timing is good from my perspective, because I am about to call out some of the most inhuman of email "marketers" this week. The only reason they're not up yet is that I want to call them first to see what they were thinking (not only fair, but makes it more interesting to read about).

If you've send me a pitch or a blast in the last 6 months, maybe you're worried now. Good. Imagine that a bunch of people like me are ready to expose impersonal, non-human pitches every time you send them. Is it worth it?

I love email. I take a lot of time to craft them. I got Richard Edelman to speak at our marketing forum last year (he responded very quickly!) with a well-crafted email. But it's just as bad to abuse email as any other form of "personal" communication.

Seth's rules would have you not send mass emails. I'm not that strict -- my nominee for a marketer that knows how to be a human, rentvillas.com, sent one of the best mass emails I ever saw. We advise a lot of people on how to do email marketing properly, and a lot of our advice would violate Seth's rules. But I think we'd agree on a few like:

  • Don't talk like a press release. Talk like a person. A person is reading this, so why are you talking like that?
  • Do you have a sig with a phone number in it? Your phone number? If you don't trust me enough to give me your real phone number, I don't trust you enough to read your mail.
  • Don't mark your email urgent. Urgent to you is not urgent to me.
  • Don't lie in your subject line, and don't be cute. You're not clever enough to be cute. Just be honest.
  • Following up on an impersonal spam email is twice as dumb as sending the first one. Invest the time to do it right the first time.

And the best one:

  • Just because you have someone's email address doesn't mean you have the right to email them.

An awful lot of people have my email address -- I wish they'd listen.


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Jon Garfunkel

Whoa. Seth Godin conflates the matter. He has titled his post "How to send a personal email" but he's really talking about "how to send me a pitch via email."

Ok, that said, why should anyone be faulted for violating these rules without knowing them a priori? Godin has had a blog up for seven years, and has surely been the -- only now is he providing a rules of engagement?

Also, I beg of A-listers to think about this from the perspective of us lowly pitchers. We have no idea how many email/pitches you get in a day, how many you answer/reject. There's a whole process here that ought transpire, and emails scale poorly for all parties involved.
I've written about this back in 2005:

Steve Ames

Hi Josh,
Something doesn't feel quite right with all of this. Isn't it your responsibility how you publicize your e-mail address - at least somewhat?
It also makes me think of snailmail. I'm sure you and I pick up the mail and find that 98% is unsolicited junk. And we have to PAY to get rid of it. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I don't think you and Seth can have it both ways: Be super visible on the web, broadcast your address like crazy, then chastise the masses for spamming you - but I'm not sure...

Josh Bernoff

Jon and Steve -- I am thinking of this from the perspective of "lowly pitchers." If you send me a human email, I'll respond. If you spam me, I'll get mad.

"We have no idea how many email/pitches you get in a day" the answer is, about 12.

"Isn't it your responsibility how you publicize your e-mail address" -- no, it's not. I didn't ask to get spammed, and I won't take it.

The actual spammers out there are slime, we all know that. The marketers, on the other hand, need to rise above the slime. I will help you to see how to do this. I love PR people, I just don't love everything they do.


Great post and thanks for the inadvertent tip on renting villas (loved their email and added them as a favorite).

I just wanted to add one more point:

- Write the email from your audiences perspective. We dont care that your event has 1 sponsorship left and that you need to fill it today. What can it do for us and please be specific - Obama will likely help us increase revenue, so tell me a more detailed view.

Jon Garfunkel

Seth -- But is it "inhuman"? I generally don't ascribe that to my worst enemies. Even if your request to be removed from their list is ignored, I wouldn't call it inhuman. Just unethical-- and illegal, that's a 15 U.S.C. § 7704 violation.

Why not advertise a pitches address?

See also Tom Foremski's thoughts in response to Chris Anderson's pitch breaking point last year.

Also, I might point out the irony here, in that I *did* send you a personal email last week... maybe it got trapped by a Forrester spam filter. :-(

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