Smart Marketers Acting Stupidly


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Before I go any further, I know there are some detractors out there who will claim, “Smart Marketers,” is an oxymoron–something like military intelligence or sales professional (I tossed that in out of a sense of fair play.).

But, for the most part, I meet a lot of very smart, well intended marketing people who, somehow do terribly stupid things.  As a result, they invest in huge marketing programs, that not only fail to achieve the desired results, but have a negative impact on the perception of the brand or company.

Right now, I’m looking at a series of emails, some landed in my Inbox, some received by others in the company, and some that have landed in our company Spam filter.  They are all the same mail, directed to different people.

They are from a Fortune 100 technology company, actually a client of ours.  I know the CMO and many of the marketing people.  They are thoughtful, smart people, focused on strong customer engagement and building the brand.  They have many marketing programs (both traditional and social) that are brilliantly executed.

But then you get one (actually a lot) of emails.  This email had at least 3 tragic flaws:

1.  Perhaps the most egregious:  They bought a bad quality list.  My apologies to the list vendors, but I’ve never seen a procured list worth 10% of it’s purchase price.  This email(s) list, clearly was purchased from one of those companies that scrapes the web for names, decodes a company’s email format, and constructs lists that are largely fictional.  Then they sell them to largely naïve, careless, or unsuspecting marketers.

It’s gotten somewhat comical.  At our websites, we have “team,” pages with various members of our team.  Each of us gets the same email.   There’s also an “In Memoriam” page for Dr. George Lehner–a former partner and cherished mentor.  George passed away years ago.  When George passed away, I had all emails addressed to him forwarded to me.  Within a few months, that issue was sorted out, but somehow, I’ve never stopped having emails addressed to him forwarded to me.

George still gets lots of email from enthusiastic marketers.  He got this one, as well,  Hmmmmm…….

We, also, have a lot of customers quotes and references at our websites.  List vendors have the ugly practice of harvesting their names, appending the to them and put them on a list.  As a result, we get emails addressed to customer names, but at our company.

And then there are the dozens of fictitious names or variants of our people’s names that are also included in those lists.

Unsuspecting or naïve marketers spend ton’s of money buying lists that are pure crap.  The problem is they usually don’t know they are crap, they probably don’t bounce, they may go into a “community mailbox” or into a Spam filter.  But they end up paying for those names.

Moral of this story, “Buyer beware,” too many list providers intentionally or sloppily seem to provide more crap than real lists.  (Forget the whole concept of opt-in.)

2.  This second error is purely within the control of the marketing organization, but related to the previous point.  They seemed to have an email strategy focused on “papering” an organization.  I suppose the thought is, “Send enough emails to enough people in a company and someone will respond.”  This then leads to a strategy of papering the world.  Smart marketing is smart targeting.  It’s not about contacting everyone in the organization in the hopes that someone responds.  But it’s about targeted, relevant communications to specific personas.

Instead, these marketers, in their rush to communicate and engage, send the very same dull email to everyone, regardless of the relevance to the recipient.  Let’s look at the case of this specific email from my client, the Fortune 100 technology company.  We received over 50 of the same emails, one each–to the members of our team.  My dear friend and deceased, George, got his email, and there were another 20 addressed to clients who are quoted or referenced in one of our sites.

Why would each of us have exactly the same interest.  We have some officers in the company, some consulting/delivery partners, a marketing person, a small technology group.  Each has different interests, so well targeted emails would address the likely interests of the officers, consultants, marketing, and technology people.

3.  The third error was the message itself.  You already know it wasn’t targeted, but it wasn’t about us–any of us.  Instead, these were, “Buy my product emails.”   The absence of customer focus, the inability to speak to issues important and relevant to me (and the others in or “theoretically in,” our company was the third major error.  Instead of thinking what we were interested in, they focused on their interests—telling me about their wonderful products.

This email campaign was tragically conceived and poorly executed.  I can only guess this was inflicted on 10’s of thousands of real and imagined people.  I hope most of them went into a Spam filter of some sort-so the targets were oblivious to this terrible program and it would just be money and time wasted by the marketer.  For those that received it, the impression is more negative–impacting the perception of the brand and the company, making the target more difficult to engage in future campaigns.

4.  There’s a fourth error, pure sloppiness.  Actually, it was best demonstrated in an email–actually several (the list issue) from a senior executive at a well funded, fast growing start-up.  The person, sent a personalized letter, in the first paragraph stating, “Dave (or current resident), carefully researched your background and experience in LinkedIn, as well as your company website…….”  He went on to describe, the issues executives in our industry faced and how his company helped address those issues.  All in all, a well constructed letter.

I know you are waiting for the “But….”

Well his error, which totally discredited him and his “careful research,” was the industry and the problems he addressed had nothing to do with consulting or our business.  He was addressing important and relevant issues to a very distant professional services industry, but completely foreign to us.  I’m so pleased he did his homework and careful research.  It’s clearly had a positive impact on my perception of him, his professionalism, and his company. (Tongue planted firmly in cheek.)

The Bottom Line

I wish these types of communications and marketing programs were rarities or the exceptions.  I wish they were restricted to “schlocky” firms.  (excuse my NYC’ese.).

But they are done by smart people working for great companies.

Unfortunately, my mail box is filled, daily, with communications from too many people distracted with volume over quality/relevance.

I know, in the case of this company, they know better.  I know they would never want to be perceived in the manner in which this program came across.

But too often, whether it’s the pressure of time, needing to meet the numbers, lapses in clear thinking; we fail in execution.

Too often, there is the gap of Knowing Versus Doing.

Smart marketing, and smart people are better than this.  We need to hold ourselves to higher standards of performance.  We need not be seduced by taking shortcuts, instead viciously focusing on quality engagement, thoughtfulness and relevance.  It doesn’t take huge volume, but those efforts always stand out, always have an impact.

Lest some of the sales professionals reading this get a little smug, saying “Go get them Dave,” we suffer from the same lapses.  As a polite reminder, you may want to look to reread, Knowing Verus Doing, and the posts referenced at the bottom of the page.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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