Four Gray Hat Marketing Techniques

Last Updated Mar 13, 2008 7:09 PM EDT

Gray Hat image by Randy Son of Robert [cc, 2.0]Deciding on whether or not to adopt a black hat marketing technique is probably a no-brainer for most -- but what about those who have no moral qualms about adopting some ethically gray techniques. I'm listing these techniques not as encouragement to do them -- in fact I see it more as a list of things to avoid, especially if you are a highly risk-averse organization. Each item has a X/10 rating based on how "black hat" the method is deemed (this rating is based on my own personal perception).

  1. Linkbaiting (3/10): The idea of linkbaiting came to birth along with social bookmarking. Basically, a site related to a specific market writes an article with 20-something tech-savvy social bookmarkers in mind. The underlying reason is because Google's natural search algorithm depends on a lot of links, and -- more recently -- links deep within your domain. This is a 3 on a scale of 1-10 because linkbaiting is a widely accepted -- and often encouraged -- marketing technique. It becomes iffy when your paid employees are somehow gaming or influencing the social bookmarking votes of your articles.

  2. Greenwashing (7/10): BNET1 wrote about this earlier, and I think it's becoming a well-established tenet that this is something to avoid at all costs. Still, greenwashing has different shades of gray. Do you state that your business is run entirely on clean energy, even though you're only purchasing the carbon offsets? Can you say that your item contains recyclable material, even though it only contains a certain percentage of recyclable material? Can you call yourself a "green company" if your company cars are hybrids? Many of these have well-established answers. Others don't. Expect the ethics to become less nebulous in the coming years.

  3. Third Parties (8/10): I think a huge mistake of credit companies and banks -- even the local supermarket -- has been to sell consumer information to third parties without regard to how it affects the consumer. This erodes brand loyalty.

  4. Email Spam (10/10): We all hate it, so why subject your customers to it? Sure, a great email campaign (newsletters, special offers, updates on the company) can do wonders, but there is an easy line to draw between good marketing and spam.

Gray Hat image by Randy Son of Robert [cc, 2.0]