Ethical Marketing Could Still Save E-Mail
Marketing doesn’t have to be a win-lose battle, says Shel Horowitz, author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First – but too many businesses can’t understand that they win when their customers also win.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if win-lose marketers only shot themselves in the foot,” says Horowitz. “Unfortunately, as soon as someone invents a new communication tool, somebody else figures out a way to abuse it.”
E-mail is a classic example. Horowitz notes that e-mail at its best-in the form of discussion groups – may be the single most powerful marketing tool invented to date. It allows instant communication, anywhere around the world, with many thousands of people talking about the exact subject where you offer solutions-as easily as you can send a note to your next-door neighbor.
It also allows something very close to real-time dialog with individual correspondents thousands of miles away. And of course, you can back up statements with spreadsheets, research sources, articles, and other data, either as file attachments or posted on a Web page. For most users, in the US at least, it costs nothing extra to take advantage of these tools. (Many people in other parts of the world pay based on time online or bandwidth, so for them, the flat-fee monthly pricing we enjoy may not be an option-and that’s important information if you’re in the habit of sending large files around.)
To a skilled marketer, e-mail was, until fairly recently, “the goose that lays the golden egg.” But the abusers-spammers, con artists, scumware/spyware/virus programmers-are killing the golden goose, says Horowitz. Consider this:
- Many users have filters that sort any unfamiliar e-mail addresses directly into the trash can
- Some corporations use e-mail systems that automatically strip out attachments
- Even if the recipient is hand-filtering, most e-boxes are so clogged with junk mail that it’s easy to accidentally delete a legitimate message
- Delivery reliability has dropped due to overloaded infrastructure
- Some popular services, including AOL, Yahoo, and Hotmail, simply can’t process the volume, and the recipient’s e-mail system breaks down or is shut off for quota violation
- Enormous numbers of e-mail addresses go stale every year.
- For people who need to be accessible by e-mail-journalists, technical support people, and consultants who have an Internet-oriented clientele-this flood of bad mail becomes a huge burden
When business owners have to sift through hundreds of messages a day, Horowitz says, they are far less likely to see and act on a relevant individually targeted message. “Often, I’ve opened an e-mail thinking it was probably junk, because of a poorly chosen subject line, and it turned out to be an inquiry from a client or book purchaser; I have to check! I deeply resent the time spent sorting the junk, but I really don’t want to lose important messages. But many business owners don’t realize how much of the good they’re tossing with the bad.”
These days, Horowitz uses technological filters that sort by “spam score,” so he can dump the obvious garbage and check suspected messages before deleting.
In e-mail, Horowitz says, the best type of marketing is either one-to-one, when someone has specifically expressed interest in your company or the type of products and services you offer, or through permission-based tools like discussion lists and opt-in e-zines. And if the rest of us could educate spammers that spam simply doesn’t work, or create enforceable laws against it, e-mail can return to its rightful place at the top of the marketing pyramid.
And, he says, marketing so everyone wins is not just about e-mail. “In every area of marketing-print, electronic, and web advertising, direct mail, trade shows-there’s a backlash against intrusive and misleading marketing. Clueless marketers simply turn up the heat and come back in your face with something even more intrusive. But smart marketers understand that successful marketing is long-term, it’s about building a relationship with your customers-to the point where they’re out there convincing their friends to do business with you. You should be able to look in the mirror and feel proud. Part of why I wrote my book is that the win-lose people make it much harder for the rest of us. I’m selfish that way – if I can convince a few people to change their ways, I’ll have made the world a better place. And that’s something I like to do.”