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Unethical Marketing: 5 Ways to Cross the Line

Alyssa Gregory

One of the most important elements of marketing your business is being able to create effective marketing campaigns that do not cross the line from ethical to unethical. While there are some strategies that straddle that line and are open for debate, there are some that clearly fall on the unethical side of the scale.

Business ethics is a topic that has received a ton of press and attention over the last several years. In today’s business environment where government is continually cracking down on those that do not play by their rules, it is in your best interest to play nice. The last thing you want is to become a poster boy for unethical business behavior.

Here are five unethical marketing and business practices that you should stay away from if you want to avoid losing potential clients, angering your audience and hurting your business.

Selling a sub-par product or service.

If you’re going to create and sell a product or service that you know is lacking, you better not be marketing as the best thing since sliced bread. Be honest that it is very basic and not for experienced professionals.  Or better yet, create something more worthwhile.

Contacting people without their consent.

This one irks me like no other. Just because I email you with a question or collaboration opportunity does not give you permission to add me to your newsletter email list. Make sure you are only contacting those that have opted-in to receive information from you. If you add email addresses to your lists without consent, you are spamming.

Deliberately misrepresenting what a purchaser will get/achieve/become with a product or service.

How many times do you get an email with an outrageous promise that seems too good to be true? And what do you do with those emails? If you’re like me, you first unsubscribe from that list, report the email as spam and then delete it.

Refusing to respond to and correct customer complaints.

One of the worst things a business that relies on word of mouth referrals can do is ignore unhappy customers. If you receive a complaint about a service you rendered, you should respond to it promptly and seek a resolution as quickly as possible. It is not only is the “right” thing to do, but you have a chance to turn a negative experience into a positive one and that may lead to a second chance with that customer.

Not having a clear and easy-to-understand privacy policy.

We see Facebook and other large social media sites running into this one quite frequently. While their missteps are probably due to their rapid growth, there are plenty of others who hide information in confusing privacy policies. Things like the right to sell their members’ information to third parties or not clearly explaining how the information you share is used.

A related no-no in my mind is also making it a 10-step process to unsubscribe from a list. Or worse, not allowing people to unsubscribe at all.

What unethical business and marketing practices get under your skin?

Image credit: Splenetic