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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tricks, gimmicks, and shortcuts

This comment I received overnight (about 2 a.m. EDT) certainly seemed flattering.

Dude, GREAT blog. This whole site that you have set up is top-notch. Well done. I stumbled across it as I was looking for an article on general contractors.

I’m really looking forward to reading all of your archives. Terrific job, keep it up!
However, my sixth sense immediately told me something didn't ring right here. Why would anyone write such flattering remarks for an old posting relating to the Ontario General Contractors' Association? Must be, I ultimately correctly deduced, an effort by someone to steal a back link through a form of comment spam/management.

However, the back link wasn't obvious from the surface. I only discovered the trick when I posted the remarks and discovered the link embedded in the name "Janee Martin". I then immediately deleted the comment, after a cursory examination of the referenced site.

Paradoxically, the site may have had some value to the blog's readers. But why should I extend it any respect if the organization seeking attention is playing tricks and games, and presumably using an offshore service, to manipulate things.

These observations lead to a larger, more challenging question: Is it wrong to use tricks, gimmicks and short-cuts to achieve your marketing aims? And here, I cannot give you a clear answer.

Earlier in the day, for example, I saw how I could get a (purported) "free ride" with an email "blast" to thousands of people, many of whom have asked to be removed from my mailing list.

The extra mailing would take just a few minutes to set up, and would not cost a cent financially -- at least in the immediate sense. And I probably would recover some valid names and maybe a few clients, while others, perhaps fuming at the spam, would simply hit "delete" or send a spam complaint to the mailing service, not me.

Why not go for it?


But I hesitated, and then rightfully decided to stop. Maybe a follow-up or verification mailing can be justified, but it needs to be handled carefully and the intent of people asking not to be bothered again by me must be respected. Until I can scrub the list clean of anyone who asked to be removed, the email won't be sent. And if I send it, I will think hard and fast about the content and relevance first.

Then, late last night, one of my talented representatives saw for the first time the "send" list of a regional construction association. We certainly don't have permission to use this list for advertising or marketing -- but he deduced that he could send out an email inviting readers (if they wish) to submit suggestions for a guest column or editorial contributions to the publication. It is unlikely anyone will be offended by that kind of offer. A trick? Maybe, but good marketing as well (as long as he doesn't routinely repeat the exercise with the same list.)

So, what, after all, are the rules here?

In the perfect world, I suppose, we would all only send and receive marketing messages we really wish to get. And when we achieve this perfect match, we almost inevitably succeed. Consider the natural flow of personal relationships, word of mouth, and inbound inquiries.

Potential (and current/former) clients want to do business with you, so they seek you out. Undoubtedly this is the easiest and most enjoyable way to sell anything.

However, most marketing communications efforts involve some waste and (worse) irritation of people and organizations who, often for truly valid reasons, will never do business with you.

This sort of thing happens when you "force your pitch" on someone at a networking event (rather than focusing entirely on the person you are speaking with's real interests), in intrusive advertising, telemarketing, and (painfully) spamming. Telemarketing and canvassing probably are the most intrusive approaches, but they come with a trade-off -- the need to personally interact with the person you are troubling. So you either pay handsomely for the canvassers or callers to "take the rejection" or you endure it, knowing that you can gracefully back off and move to the next "prospect".

Spam, frankly, is one of the most challenging (and perhaps tempting) options. If you have a list, it costs virtually nothing to force it out on people's email, and you don't (directly) have to face the rejection. So why not just do an email blast!

The cost, of course, is in your reputation and your chance at a future relationship. Remember as well, spam can be on a small scale. Some Public Relations agency, trying to interest me in a marginally relevant story, sent the same release -- and follow-up "personal" email to me and two employees of my organization on leave, so all three emails landed in my mailbox yesterday. I deleted them all.

But another PR representative sent a straightforward news release, without any purported personalization, to more than one address. Most of these announcements land in the round basket (okay) but this one stood out -- I followed up and will probably write a story on the topic. When does spam become newsworthy?

I believe the more you can engage people with good stuff and the less you resort to intrusion and disrespect, the more you will succeed at your marketing. But sometimes it doesn't hurt to break the rules. Just be aware of the risks and real costs when you do.

3 comments:

Christopher G. Hill said...

Great Post Mark! Hear Hear! I always have to be on the lookout for such tricks. I have found that there are no shortcuts to good marketing of a construction or legal practice.

Clay Posey said...

Mark,
In regards to intrusive, interruption marketing (telemarketing, spam, direct mail) I'm of the less is more camp (with a goal of zero). However I think your point is valid - if you're going to interrupt someone's day, consider the cost. Realizing that the cost may be more than the loss of one subscriber. We are all networked so tightly now and information lives forever in Cyberland. If you need to (and we all do from time to time) make that initial, unsolicited reach, my opinion is that an invitation is the best way to go. Invite them to join the existing conversation (blog) or to access "freemium" material or to contribute to your work. (Don't we all love to be asked to help?) At the end of the day, even if you hit the round file, you probably haven't annoyed nearly as much as if you hit them with the latest and greatest offer.

Mark Buckshon said...

Chris and Clay:

Thanks for your comments. This morning, I deleted two additional "trick" comments. One had an obviously embedded link, the other (seemingly responding to the theme of the posting) appeared to be hyping an unrelated service.

Clay, your observations about the best form of interruption or uninivited marketing are excellent.

Guru Seth Godin's approaches (the inspiration for much of this blog) would argue against any form of intrusive or "unwelcome" marketing, but I think his purest extreme approach is about as rational for most marketers as sending out canvassing or telemarketing crews every day. I think we need to find ways framed within permission and respect, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to make a little more noise or interrupt others to draw attention to the cause.