Tuesday 2¢: Legitimate Does Not Mean Interest

You’ve bought my email address, I don’t mind you using it, but you can probably do better than that.

I’ve led marketing teams in the US, UK, and EU; in the UK, we sit in a sort of no-mans land regarding privacy. Yes, we have privacy laws that are stricter than in other places (like the bulk of the US), we adopt GDPR, but our laws are not as strict as mainland Europe, specifically places like Germany, which has had laws around things like “double opt-in” since before GDPR. 

Let me just declare early, as a marketer, I lean toward consent when it comes to data, not because I am especially principled as an advocate for privacy, you just end up with a much more valuable database full of people that have indicated (sometimes twice) that they want to engage with you. During my time as CMO at censhare, based in Munich, I loved how the database was squeaky clean. 

I should probably also declare that I’m no privacy expert or lawyer, but the general view is that in the UK, marketing, especially B2B marketing, sits in the privacy twilight zone called legitimate interest. In fact, it’s explicitly called out in the GDPR directives:

“direct marketing purposes may be regarded as carried out for legitimate interest”

So.. err.. maybe not a twilight zone, after all, pretty clear cut, apart from that pesky “may”. 

But to clarify that ambiguity, the guidance is pretty strict and clear for what may be legitimate. But to simplify, and for the purposes of this post, in the UK, you can buy a list with my work email address on it and email me. 

I’m cool with that. 

Especially when I first changed roles, this is clearly a buying decision point, if you are flogging me marketing services or tools, it’s natural I’ll be reviewing what I need in a new role.   


You can debate the marketing merits of buying an audience, whether a list of email addresses, social followers, likes, or even podcast listens. How engaged and valuable will that purchased audience be?

Plus, a good marketing mantra which is often applied to marketing automation programmatic advertising, or whatever the latest craze or marketing shiny doohickey applies here – just because you can do something, should you?

Or, in this case, just because something is legitimate, should you?

But, let’s say you should, absolutely, the data supports it, etc.

How else does marketing work? Occasionally, you need to interrupt someone or drop something unexpected out of the blue into their inbox, right?

As I scroll through the unsolicited emails in my inbox and we are finally getting to the point of this little rant, the problem I have is that while their interest is legitimate, they seem to miss that I’m not interested.

Or, at best, not yet. 

Scroll with me through my inbox… 

nope, not in sales, 

can’t speak French

can’t speak Dutch

not in the US market

this email address is for my podcast it doesn’t need demand generation

we are not in identity management

umm.. you are a competitor to what we do, I don’t need one of those

no, I don’t need developers (I am a CMO)

and on… 

In a moment of business development empathy, marketer to marketer, I have replied to some of these emails, pointing out why the email was misdirected, but you know what, I didn’t get a reply to any of them. I realised, at that point, I had put more effort into these emails than the sender. 

Fair enough, they would have to be fucking good, or more likely bloody lucky (or be offering free money) to impress a complete stranger in B2B whose email address they just bought off the internet and have no other research, data or insight they can use that would stop me scroll and pay attention. 

It’s a numbers game, and a 1% return from an email address list might be high fives all around. So, maybe I should treat these emails like driving past a billboard for female sanitary products, perfectly fine, just not for me, move on and not be writing this.

But email is more intimate; you see these emails and feel this could be much better. All of these reasons I listed why those emails were irrelevant to me would be easy to find about my company or me, with a moment of research.

And some of it, their market machine could have told them, I’m fully aware of the data I share with the world, and marketing technology is better than that, you can easily enrich that email address with understanding what it is my company does (for example) with virtually zero effort.

This brings me to the next email I get from them.

Yes, the initial email missed the mark, and like that billboard, I have scrolled past. Maybe best we leave it at that, they bought a list, I am one of the 99% who is not going to show up in their stats. No harm done. 

But no… 

“Are you the right person”

“I’m worried you’ve been kidnapped!”

“Did you get my email”

“in case you missed this”

“Can you….” 


“Goedendag Ian, ik zie dat je de video die ik een paar dagen geleden heb gestuurd eventueel nog niet hebt bekeken” (Hi Ian, I see that you may not have watched the video I sent a few days ago.)

We describe this as “nurture” but let’s face it, they purchased my email address, the robot emailed me, they invested very little and I did nothing, there is no relationship to nurture. There is an assumption of interest that is not there.

And for those that are asking me to do something – wait… what?

Yes, I know unsolicited email is an easy target for a rant, I’m a huge fan of email marketing, done right, it can be automated, and with some thought and data, it can be very relevant. 

But, like much of automated marketing, it’s super cheap and, even with very low response rates, can wash its face with the one in a thousand that do reply, so it’s done cheaply, with no effort, data, or thought. And maybe there is no harm done.

But what if I was interested in a company that could (to quote an email today):

…maandelijks 30 tot maar liefst 60 gekwalificeerde leads leveren? Potentiële klanten die écht geïnteresseerd zijn in jullie services en dat vertalen in een afspraak.

(deliver 30 to as many as 60 qualified leads every month? Potential customers interested in your services and translate that into an appointment.)

Unlikely I will pick a company that can’t qualify me as English or Dutch. 

And you only get one chance to touch that person in your database.

One shot.

A first impression, all that. 

Who knows what drip by drip damage is being done to the brand.

And yes, it’s legitimate to have my email address, but that does not mean I’m interested.  

P.S. As I pushed publish, my chum Robert Rose posted this on LinkedIn, on a similar rant – his view “That it demonstrates disrespect for the art and science of marketing – a discipline that I hold dear”.

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