Sacred Inbox blog: Lisa Burger holding a sign saying her inbox is sacred.

Inbox Respect: With Email Marketing Comes Great Responsibility

I was digging the idea of getting to know a local businesswoman I’d heard about.

She’d spent time living outside of the U.S., and anyone brave enough to do that is instantly sophisticated & trendy to me. Aside: I’ve been out of the country a total of once, and was terrified the entire time.

My understanding was that she’d been pretty high up the org chart in a well-known tech company that I respect. Her website was polished, albeit a bit late 1990 cheesy.

We’d talked one time via email after being introduced by a third party. I could tell this was a lady who had her business affairs in order.

Love was in the air!

Okay, not really — but things had gotten off on a good foot. It seemed like a start to a new (amazing) business connection.

And then…*it* happened.

I noticed an email newsletter from some business I didn’t recognize.

“Hmm…” I thought. “Who the heck spammed me?”

See, here’s the thing: I don’t subscribe to many email newsletters. I prefer to follow people and businesses via social media if I’m interested. My inbox is reserved for a select few who I trust to send quality content.

Because to me, my inbox is SACRED.

sacred_inbox2(Seriously, I probably take better care of my inbox than I do my body…but that’s for another time.)

And when I opened the email up, there SHE was. A big fat obnoxious headshot of the same lady I’d been excited to get to know.

In that one split second, Mrs. Has-It-All had turned into just another slimy online marketer invading my space.


Technically, yes. In the US you can add people to your email newsletter without their permission.

There is an unfortunately named law called the CAN-SPAM law. (Why, you ask, do I say it’s unfortunately named? Because it reminds me of that weird meat from Hawaii that only comes in a can.)

The CAN-SPAM law requires that you to:

  1. Have a way for people to opt-out of your mailings.
  2. Include a current mailing address in your newsletters.

But you *technically* don’t need their permission to bug them the first time. You can send unsolicited emails.

But come on…

Is violating someone’s sacred inbox worth the association it leaves with your brand? Because I immediately label those businesses as annoying Spammy McSpammers who are most concerned about themselves.

Think it’s going to make people loyal to your brand? Or have them buy your shizz?

Marketing and branding guru Seth Godin doesn’t think so either. Like Seth says in his blog, people today are trained to ignore unwanted and obvious marketing efforts.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t NOTICE them.

After all, it’s still a pain to have to open the email and find the itty-bitty “UNSUBSCRIBE” link that’s hidden in a pile of ‘blah-blah-blah’. Then to add insult to injury, you often have to jump through a couple weird hoops to fully unsubscribe.

It wastes a minimum of 60 precious seconds of my day, and I promise you:

I chant “I hate you” for all sixty of those tedious and unnecessary seconds I spend unsubscribing.

Is this the first impression you want someone to have of you, your business, and your brand?


Wouldn’t the polite thing be to ASK me first? Allow me to opt in?

It’s called permission marketing for a reason. Imagine how differently someone would view your brand! The words respectful, courteous, and polite immediately come to mind.

The truth is, spam marketing happens. Sometimes the sender doesn’t know better, but more often the marketer doesn’t care or has an ego that rivals Texas’s ego. But as a business owner, you can take a stand. Just say “No” and build your list in a more courteous and organic way.

The good news is, there’s a completely missed opportunity here I need to point out. So, allow me to finish this post by asking you a really important question:


Usually when you go through the unsubscribe process, it’ll ask you for the reason you’re unsubscribing. I see this as a prime opportunity to get creative with your unsubscribe responses.

So I asked some friends to help me develop a few “choice” unsubscribe responses for these special occasions. (And why yes – they’re all tweetables! All you gotta do is click to share.)


1. “I’m sorry. I don’t let anyone send me emails regularly until at *least* the second date…<wink>” – Me (Lisa Burger)

2. “You had me at Unsubscribe!” – Colleen Conger from Digital Photo & Design


3. “Hey, thanks for subscribing me to your list without asking me first. I returned the favor by subscribing you to Mail Order Brides/Grooms. You should be getting your first shipment in the morning!” – Colleen Conger from Digital Photo & Design

4. “What’s the difference between you and that canned meat from Hawaii that everyone hates? Yeah, I’m not sure either.” – Me (Lisa Burger), again.


5. “Hey there. I’m being ruthless in eliminating emails and de-cluttering my inbox. It’s not personal and I’d love to support your business in other ways.” – Karen Jones from Heart Matters.

6. “It was nice to hear from you. I’ll take a look at your newsletter later, but I wanted to let you know that it’s customary to ask permission before adding someone to your email list.” – Gloria Miele from Optimal Development Coaching

To keep my inbox the way I like it – empty, I did have to “open” her email for a split second. But that open metric doesn’t tell the whole story, because I sure as hell didn’t waste my time reading it.

Instead I scrolled immediately to the bottom of email and found the link to unsubscribe. In keeping with my playful nature, I left unsubscribe response #1 in the “why are you unsubscribing?” form.

And then, I deleted the newsletter email completely. I don’t need any bad mojo in my inbox.

The people and clients I want in my world value everyone’s time (and their inbox space). The peeps I want in my life are the kind who politely ask me in a separate email, “Hey Lisa, I have a newsletter where I write and share x, y, and z so it might be useful for you. If you’re interested, sign up here!

And they’d also offer a couple alternative channels to stay in touch, like Facebook –  in case email wasn’t my thing. (Because it isn’t.)

So, ta-ta for now, Mrs Spammy McSpammer!

Still, I’m really curious about this subject.

How do YOU feel about email marketing? Do you subscribe to a lot of newsletters, or do you keep it to a bare minimum?

And of course, if you have a fabulous semi-snarky unsubscribe response to add to the above best-of list…please don’t keep that to yourself!

The world needs to hear your humorous insightful snark – so be sure to share that as well in the comments below!

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Published by

Lisa Burger

Lisa Burger is a friendly technology coach, expert translator of geek, and the founder of StartUp!. Lisa's industry experience included information systems, enterprise networking, and information security. She also has a bachelor's degree in computer science.

Today Lisa uses her knowledge and approachable friendly style to assist individuals and businesses with discovering technology solutions that simplify and improve their lives or business. In addition to all the nifty tech stuff, she also has a soft spot for sushi rolls, yoga, barrel racing/rodeo (she used to complete), and drinking iced chai lattes.

If this post was useful, join Lisa on Twitter (@slostartup) or send her an email at

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  • ZetteHarbour

    I head straight for the unsubscribe button at the bottom, too. They’ve not only wasted both our time, they’ve created a bad impression for themselves.

    • Right? An unsolicited email that isn’t personal in nature (e.g. clearly made for the masses) just leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Golden rule applies to online marketing: Email others as you’d like to be emailed.

  • I have a special email for subscribing and also roll some into But I HATE being added without permission. It guarantees I will never work with them. I also hate FB message marketing. I can’t even unsubscribe from them so I have to use the block button. I don’t understand why people do this.

    • I have faith in humanity, so I believe/hope they do it: A) because they were told this is what works but never considered the consequences or B) they’re desperate and cold bodies are better than no bodies?

      And yes, FB message marketing is a particular type of evil. Problem is it’s still relatively novel and it converts. So until there is a revolt by the public, I don’t see the Spammy McSpammers giving this up anytime soon. Sigh.

  • michael erard

    The worst offenders are political campaigns, whose use of email lists don’t appear to be controlled by anyone, including their vendors, like NPG Van and Salsa Labs. The campaigns get lists from each other, from single-issue campaigns, or from the local parties, alway assuming an opt-in default.

    • I always wondered why the CAN-SPAM law doesn’t also require opt-ins, as this would drastically reduce spam (and make IT admins everywhere much happier). It’s the obvious piece that’s missing to me.

      And now I get it! The CAN-SPAM law doesn’t require opt-ins so the politicians can continue to “reach out to us” legally. (D’oh!) It’s not in the politicians best interest to fully protect us here…so we’ll just skip that piece. Sigh.

      Y’know the “Do Not Call” list? Well, I want a “Do Not Email (Without Explicit Permission)” one for online marketers, darnit! Whose with me? Petition time…

      Michael, thanks for sharing your insights as it helped me make a new connection regarding spam and politicians. Hope you enjoyed the post and hope to see you around. I’ll be posting new content every other Monday. Cheers!

  • I <3 this post. I have been TRYING to unsubscribe some someone's list for TWO full weeks. Every morning, there is a new email! I've clicked every unsubscribe link. I've done everything I am suppose to. This morning, I used my last ditch effort – Report for SPAM. I feel bad doing that to a fellow small biz owner, but I couldn't take it anymore. It was just too much in an already packed inbox.

    • Yes. As marketers, we need to be careful to walk in our customer’s shoes. Some customers are okay with more emails, some of us not. I tend to walk on the overall cautious side myself, out of respect.

      What drives me nuts is when a biz has many lists and automatically add you to multiple lists, say 3 for this example. So you unsubscribe from one, but don’t realize you’re still listed on 2 more. These other lists that continue to email you…but you think the unsubscribe failed.