My friend Eileen has a grey striped cat named Nimbus whose greatest joy is to hunt in the backyard woods and drop his offerings at her back door.
The other day he delivered a freshly slain chipmunk, placing it lovingly on the doormat, its little velvet ears perpetually perked up at the sound of an approaching cat (alas, a hair too late).
Last week, the offering was a vole. Before that, a sparrow. Eileen never knows when she’ll open the door to step out of the house to suddenly be faced with the freshest of Nimbus’s kill.
Gross and heartbreaking as some of his catches are—particularly those that apparently put up a struggle—Nimbus is nonetheless easily forgiven. He is operating solely on instinct, after all.
Far more accountable are those who operate their business the same way Nimbus conducts his—by plopping the unwanted and often distasteful straight onto our unsuspecting laps.
Here are my top picks for business marketing efforts that are as distasteful as dead mice on the doorstep:
1. Social spam. Spam used to refer exclusively to unsolicited email, and mostly to shady characters like phishers and people like “Robert benjamen from the Ivory Coast [sic]” who has a $10.5 million cocoa fortune to share with me if I forward my bank account number.
But more troublesome of late is the prevalence of “social spam,” which includes an alarming array of irritation: Facebook wall spam, or spammy Facebook private messages from “friends” who connect there only to broadcast their stuff; misguided Twitter Direct Messages; blog comment spammers; bogus blog trackbacks; and so on.
Many of them seem just ill-advised and not truly nefarious. On Twitter, for example, many of the otherwise well-meaning set up robot-trigged Direct Messages through one of several automation services, because they are looking to increase efficiency and speed Twitter connections. So you wind up with pre-determined, untailored and automatically generated Direct Messages that range from harmless (“Thanks for the follow. I look forward to reading your tweets.”) to the annoying (“Thanks for the follow. Friend me on Facebook and check out my blog.”). I get at least 20 a day.
So what’s wrong with an auto-DM or two? Why are they social spam? Because it starts our relationship on Twitter off on the wrong foot. The obviously generic response squanders an otherwise rich opportunity to connect in an honest, forthright manner that builds trust.
In other words, those who rely on robo-DMs haven’t thought things through, it seems to me. In life, and on Twitter, there is no shortcut to true connection.
2. Premature opt-in. Like premature baldness or labor that comes too soon, premature opt-in is a condition that occurs when things get rushed a little. Recently, someone I met at a conference rushed things by automatically adding me to his firm’s corporate email list without first securing my permission; I realized it only when I suddenly started receiving weekly newsletters from his company.
How had that happened? We had exchanged cards, so he had my email address. But was that an invitation to opt me in to a newsletter without my express permission? I don’t think so, because only one of us has the power to opt me in. (And it’s not him.)
There’s a chasm between sending someone a friendly follow-up email and adding that person to a bulk-mailed database.
At the very least, there was a missed-step in there somewhere: More appropriate might have been a personal email from my new contact, with the question expressly asked: “May I add you to my company email list?”
3. Sites that speak. Maybe this one is just me, because I like to work in silence. But sites that suddenly and unexpectedly autoplay video or audio as soon as your browser lands on them startle the bejeezus out of me. They are also frustrating to those who frantically search for the source of sound to turn it down or off. The worst offenders are videos that automatically play beneath the fold, forcing visitors to scroll down.
I could go on: There are a whole host of other things that I dislike and that others pointed to, when I asked my connections on Twitter and Facebook which marketing tactics people found most annoying. (Among them: Pop-up ads that “travel” around a site; ads that obscure a site’s content; and old-school tactics like cold calls along with direct mail masquerading as personal mail.) I’m sure you have a few that you dislike, too—feel free to call them out in the comments!
But there’s a theme here, right? At worst, these tactics disrespect your customer by annoying or interrupting them. At best, these tactics aren’t doing what you might do to emphasize true engagement: The sort that entices your customers or prospects to look to your company as a resource based on the content you publish or a service you provide them; the sort that fully acknowledges that your customer should control what and how much they want to hear from you.
In other words, these tactics don’t build real relationships that give back: They sadly don’t demonstrate any empathy toward customers, or any real understanding of what they want, need, and how your product helps them accomplish their goals—how it fits into their lives. They don’t solve, they shill.
Which is a crying shame, especially in an era when serving has become the new selling. Instead, the above tactics rely on what UnMarketing’s Scott Stratten calls “Push and Pray” rather than the more rewarding “Pull and Stay” approach.
So how do you want to be known? As a company that demonstrates true empathy and understanding?
Or a prowling cat that drops yet another stinker on a customer’s threshold?
Photo credit: Jay Woodworth
Ann Handley is the Chief Content Officer ofMarketingProfs and the co-author of the upcoming Content Rules (Wiley, 2010). Follow her on Twitter @marketingprofs.