All types of marketing raise ethical questions and subjective interpretations. From online marketing to old-fashioned U.S. mail marketing, advertisers, businesses, and marketers have always had to walk along a relatively clear, well-defined line. On one side is ethical business — opt-in lists that let people opt out just as easily, buyer-friendly sales tactics, and generous return policies. On the other is unethical business — aggressive marketing, customer unfriendly tactics, and short-term business approaches.

Most marketers are very ethical. Marketing depends on repeat business, and the most effective online businesses know that satisfied customers are exactly what they need. Repeat customers are very easy to deal with, and often the most profitable and valuable customers available. Rather than focusing on the short-term, most smart marketers are intensely focused on long-term potential.

Email marketing is one of the most popular forms of online marketing but it, too, draws ethical questions. Spam is a major problem online, and it hurts responsible email marketers. Just like short-term offers and customer unfriendly sales hurt the affiliate marketing and direct sales world, massive spam marketing efforts have affected legitimate email marketers more than they have the spammers.

When Email Marketing Becomes Spam:

Spam is sending emails to too many people who never asked to be contacted. Unfortunately, many email marketers overestimate the value of their email updates, and cross over into the latter category. This short-term focus might lead to rapid sales and quick product uptake, but it leaves little in terms of long-term potential and marketing power.

How to Market Ethically Through Email:

Provide value. Whether you are offering tips and advice through email, or merely interesting content, you have an obligation to provide value to your prospective customers before you expect it in return.

Marketing guru Seth Godin is fond of a specific term, one that he coined himself. He calls effective email marketing “permission marketing,” and defines it as marketing that has the audience’s permission to be received. Permission marketing is always more effective than its alternatives across a long time, and is a real boost for return customers, repeat clients, and long-term arrangements.

Why Permission Marketing is Best for Marketers:

Marketers are human. Despite the overwhelming (and somewhat alarming) belief that marketing plans are thought out in a harsh corporate office, most marketing plans are pieced together by people that are just as susceptible to marketing as the audiences they target. Marketing is about trust, and permission is based on trust.

When your email marketing becomes spam, every transaction is temporary and short-term. Customers appear, but they never come back. When your email marketing is based on permission – namely deep and value-providing permission – customers appear and keep coming back.

As both a long-term marketing platform and a low-maintenance marketing method, permission email marketing provides more results, less work, and greater returns for your business than any unethical approach can provide.

Jeannine Grich, owner of Accurate Business Services, a VA practice, is an author, writer, speaker, and VA Business Coach, specializing in providing professional business coaching to established and start-up virtual assistants (VA’s).  For her FREE article,  “What’s Holding Back my Business Success?” or “Finding or Expanding Your Niche”, Visit:; or contact her at:

Ready to find out how to take your business to the next level? Schedule a 30-minute complimentary session to discuss your business, and how coaching can help you GROW, here!