Estimated reading time: 5 minutes.
What did we ever do before email?
Well, here’s what we didn’t do.
We didn’t waste time responding to countless conversations and requests in a never-ending ticker tape of instant messages.
We didn’t have to deal with tons and tons of unsolicited spam cluttering our inboxes.
And, we didn’t have to constantly be on guard against nefarious attempts to trick us into letting malware into our computers, or dupe us into giving away our personal information, our money, or both.
Yet, email has been an immensely positive force too. It greatly facilitates communication, delivers essential information to us, links us to valuable knowledge and entertainment content, and helps keep us all connected.
How can we keep the good stuff emails provide us, and get rid of the bad?
That leads me to today’s topic — marketers. They (and in many cases, that they is WE) are relentlessly pounding people with emails they don’t want or need.
Here are a couple of examples from my own experience. Maybe these resonate for you too.
Example 1: I’m doing industry research. I type my search term into my search engine of choice (Duck Duck Go or Ecosia) and come across a paper from a company in that industry which is laser-focused on my topic of interest. I click over there. The description looks compelling, so I want to download it. But FIRST, I have to fill out a short form, usually with my name and email address required. Seems fair enough; I am identifying myself in exchange for this piece of content they’ve taken the trouble to create and offer to me at no monetary cost.
Then the barrage begins.
Several times a week, and sometimes DAILY, I receive automated emails from this company trying to sell me their service. The emails quickly pile up. Before I know it, there are HUNDREDS of emails from this company in my inbox.
In some cases, it’s worse. Someone from the company starts personally emailing me, or even calling me, saying they noticed I downloaded one of their white papers, and asking when it would be a good time to set up a 15-minute call to discuss my needs, and please pick one of these three time slots! This, after just ONE white paper download from me, an anonymous lead about which the company knows NOTHING but my name and email address.
Example 2: I see something I want from a retail website. The site invites me to sign up for their email list to receive a discount on my first order. I bite.
You know what comes next.
I start receiving daily, and sometimes several-times-daily emails with the latest time-sensitive special offers. Some emails tell me I’d better hurry because in so many hours the offer will expire — underscored with a ticking countdown timer. Some emails even have the gall to tell me they may NEVER AGAIN offer a deal like this, and they’d hate for me to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime deal.
All because I bought one product from them and gave them my email address to claim my 10% discount on the purchase. Suddenly, they are my best friend, sending me emails several times a day. (Actually, my best friends would never do that.)
These are all-too-common examples of what I’ll call the “spray and pray” approach. It advocates taking every lead a company collects and inundating them with generic emails that likely have nothing to do with their current wants and needs. Some percentage of leads will buckle under the pressure and buy something, and that will provide just enough ROI for the marketing team to boast that the campaign was a success.
I guess the spray and pray approach must be working to some extent — otherwise, why would marketers keep using it?
But I would counter that taking this unsophisticated, tone-deaf approach to marketing is actually harmful to a company’s brand, and therefore, its sales. It’s called junk mail for a reason, and it really annoys people. Not just because of its sheer quantity, but, more importantly, because it says loud and clear that this company hasn’t taken any effort to understand the customer at all. All the company cares about is making a buck … not truly trying to help the customer.
I think we as marketers can do a better job. Our customers are not faceless, anonymous prospects to mine with a deluge of generic emails featuring carefully crafted click-bait headlines and “valuable, limited-time offers.”
They’re real people — unique individuals with unique needs, cares, and wants. Let’s find ways to authentically build individualized relationships with those people for whom we are genuinely a good fit. Then, let’s truly be of service to them when THEY are ready to buy.
And for those people for whom we are not a fit? Leave them alone.
The result? A spam-free world, with everyone getting emails they actually want.
Until then, I wish you a wonderful, spam-free day.
Ron Marcus is the principal of Grow, a brand and marketing consultancy for small businesses and nonprofits. He’s been helping businesses and nonprofits create and live authentic, successful brands in service of people for thirty years.