There are plenty of shady email hacks that could destroy your business. But there are a few legal ones that are somehow still effective. If you have an inbox, odds are you've been at the mercy of some of these and probably fallen for them.

Here are the 5 most irritating shady email marketing tactics that somehow still get people to open, click, and respond

1. Starting a cold email with "re:" 

Making an initial email appear to be a response is an effective way to get a cold lead's attention. It's shady, it's annoying, and it's rude. But because it implies the continuation of a previous conversation, it's effective at getting that person to open the email. 

2. Claiming "Time's Running Out!" when it isn't

Retailers love this one. How many times have you gotten an email from GAP or Freedom that says it's your "LAST CHANCE!" to snag some "insane" discount, only to discover a few hours later that - surprise - they've extended the sale!

I've written before about the effectiveness of leveraging scarcity as a tactic (and made the ethical case for doing it). But this is annoying at best, deceptive at worse. What's more is that by abusing this strategy you condition your buyers to expect this extension and reduce the effectiveness of this approach. 

3. Indiscriminately using someone's name in body copy

Personalization is wonderful for email, but you have to be very tactful with the execution here.

This tactic is effective because we notice our own names more than anything else, so using someone's name grabs their attention. However, when done indiscriminately (in a subject line or randomly in the body copy) it can backfire.  

The person on the other end of your email knows that they don't know you personally and if you're not careful, that can become obvious and appear insincere (like a sales guy who's trying too hard) instead of personalized. 

4. Bait and switch 

This is another one you see retailers do a lot. This is when they use a subject line intended to mislead you in order to get you to open the email and then provoke an action. 

For example, using the subject line, "Your order is on its way," suggesting that this is an administrative email with important information inside. Only, when you open it, it's a pitch for what you should order. 

5. Referencing a previous conversation that never happened 

Cold email spammers LOVE this tactic. This one is not illegal, but it is a lie. It's when you get an email that references correspondence in the past. It's typically claiming to have called you previously, emailed you before, or actually spoken to you. 

It's intended, like #3, to imply that you have an existing relationship and should not be ignored. It's a persuasive technique that feeds off our basic psychological tendency for social connection and not wanting to let people down (reciprocity, social forces, and commitment and consistency).

These might work, but they backfire

Problem with these shady tactics is that if you keep doing them, overuse them, abuse them, or don't execute them perfectly - they backfire. 

To quote Ogilvy, the customer isn't stupid, she's your wife. Same goes for email.

Your cold prospects aren't stupid, they're human. Customers are getting smarter. Eventually, your customers will figure out what game you're playing and grow immune to these cheap tricks to get their attention and money. Respectful, ethical marketers who put people first will be the ones who win. 

Published on: Mar 30, 2018