Friday, January 16, 2015

When did spam become an accepted marketing practice?

If your like me, you've become increasingly frustrated with your email inbox. Somewhere in 2014, perhaps earlier, it seems as though we passed a milestone. Over the course of the year, I've noticed that more and more businesses have adopted spam as a marketing practice. Sorry, in the parlance of the industry, frequent customer touches, lead nurturing, trickle marketing, or -- if you ask me -- spam.

What makes this so frustratingly bad is that most of these are not trying to sell you Viagra or investments in Nigeria, those are easier to block and filter. Instead, these are emails that come from businesses and services that you use.

Perhaps the foremost example of this is Twitter which, in 2014, seems to have decided to send copious emails to each and every account you may have. These emails range from "did you know that so-and-so said such and such?" and "Today on Twitter" to "do you know so-and-so?" You look at these things and think, "dude, I signed up for Twitter and I've used your service. If I wanted to know what happened today -- or find somebody -- I'd log into Twitter and do that." The worst part of it is, if you click the unsubscribe link, it will unsubscribe you from "this type of email". And then it shifts is spam efforts to a different type of email -- from "what happened today" to "do you know" or something to that effect.

Screw those guys. This "semi-opt out" behavior is the kind of thing that builds animosity towards brands. It would be no trouble to include a button to opt out of all of their various 'marketing' emails (like more upstanding retail emailers do), but they don't. Instead, they tell you if you want to 'fix' your email preferences, you need to login -- enabling them to pad their engagement stats. See how successful our email marketing programs are? Again, screw you guys. May your gourmet cafe be filled with nothing but Spam.

Of course, it's not just Twitter. LinkedIn seems to think it's the San Jose Mercury News, or something to that effect. For some reason, they decided that I need at least two or three updates a day. "Remember that guy you worked with 15 years ago? It's his birthday today."

More Anecdotes of Email Marketing Gone Wrong
Another example comes from a colleague that works with a diverse technology company. One day they were contacted by this group, an industry association about advertising in their buyer's guide. Normally, he says, they don't do much advertising, but this is a niche industry. So they decide to move forward with the ad. After agreeing to do the ad, he realizes that the company doing the buyer's guide is not the people that he normally deals with in the industry association, but a third party group that apparently, returns some of the money that they make to the industry association.

So it turns out that this company, Multiview, doesn't just work with one industry association, they work with a number of them. And so, suddenly having been added to the "this guy spends" pool, more emails begin streaming in from Multiview, each one targeting a different industry, each one trying to scrape some more money from the business. So he starts creating filters to block them from his inbox. But the emails keep coming in because each name is different. And he can't block Multiview all together because they committed to the stupid buyers guide.

The whole thing reminded me of old call center place advertising place that I worked with when I was just out of college years ago. It's one of those places where they run a phone room, ostensibly for the firefighters or something like that, and call businesses trying to get them to advertise in something or other. Back in the day it was a tabloid newspaper. I can't tell you how many business card sized ads I created back then. This was one of the things that raised a flag on Multiview for my colleague -- after committing to the ad, they said that the could produce the artwork for the business, no charge.

When I learned about this story, the thing that simply boggles my mind is why these industry associations would let their brand be used in this way. While I'm sure that cash is a nice incentive, you have to ask yourself, what is it doing to the brand. But then again, Twitter is sort of doing the same thing to itself. I will say this about it though:

If the emotion that your brand generates is an unhappy, deal-with-the-devil discomfort where engagement is required by some sense of obligation outside of the core relationship, your brand is on thin ice. Once that sense of obligation goes away -- or if the pain of the experience exceeds the pain of not maintaining that obligation -- your user / customer / partner is gone. What's more, it won't be a sad departure, it will be a spit-on-your-grave departure because that ill will that you're building, it doesn't just go away.

No comments: