Why Won’t Sellers Subtract the Downside of too Frequent eMarketing from the Supposed Upside?


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Most marketing, sales and even service managers share a blind spot. They “measure” assumed positive outcomes of their promotional efforts, but never the damage done with us customers. In fact, they deny spamming, too frequent communication with us, even selling on customer service calls reduce our interest in buying from them (again).

Of course, they’re dead wrong. But they’re so dead set on showing positive results NOW, they’re unconcerned about down the road. Well, isn’t that like all of business?

How much do you believe seller over-use of proactive emarketing is diminishing their future sales potential with us?


  1. Frequency, like repetition, is a double-edged sword in marketing. This is especially true in direct marketing. Customer engagement and agreement, i.e. willingness to receive content in the form of any offline or online direct response contact, can make or break a campaign. Some marketers understand and practice this. Unfortunately, many do not.

    Experts like Seth Godin identified this with terms like ‘permission marketing.’. I saw it play out many years ago when I headed up the research and media planning functions at The Franklin Mint. When the company, always tactically hungry for sales and profits, pumped up their always vigorous 80 collectibles programs a year to over 100 (reaching 120 at the apex, the responsiveness of customers, i.e. collectors, precipitously declined. Though promotional recipient selectivity was also stepped-up as the number of programs increased, it wasn’t enough to offset the higher volume of mail active customers were receiving.

    Similar thinking applies to emarketing. Overpromotion has emotional undertones for and by customers, and it is considered as something of a violation of privacy and trust. This undermines program performance.

  2. Hi Dick

    You hit the nail on the head. Contemporary marketers are slowly starting to realise that winning marketing provides content that helps customers get their service jobs-to-be-done easier, faster and better, and in doing so, helps marketers get their sales jobs done too.

    Back in the days when I was a Principle at PricewaterhouseCoopers, my team developed a concept called Customer Value-at-Risk (modelled loosely on the financial concept of Value at Risk). Customer VaR measured the customer lifetime value that was at risk because of poorly targeted, poorly timed and irrelevant marketing.

    A recent study by loyalty programme operator, Aimia, described in a post on ‘Irrelevant Marketing from Brands Gives Rise to the ‘Deletist Consumer’ shows that 70% of customers in the UK have already closed down accounts and subscriptions, and ‘unfriended’ companies as a result of irrelevant marketing. The recent rise in programmatic digital marketing is driving much of this behaviour. As a recent report by PageFair/Adobe on ‘Ad-blocking Goes Mainstream’ shows, a growing number of customers are installing ad-blockers to remove digital ads from their internet experience entirely. Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson reckons the new breed of ad-blocking software is probably the biggest issue facing marketers today.

    In a recent survey of 400 programmatic marketers, AdExchanger found that programmatic already consumes more than 50% of digital marketing budgets. This is set to rapidly grow in the next few years. And with it the risk of irrelevant marketing, ad-blocking and customers going dark on marketers. Maybe it is time to implement Customer Value-at-Risk.

    Marketers won’t be able to say they weren’t warned!

    Graham Hill

  3. Hi Dick: Having participated in jillions of planning meetings, I have observed that the conversation goes something like this: “Our campaign will reach 10,000 prospects. We expect 2,000 to click on the landing page link, and 700 will [fill in name of wanted action here.]” It’s all linear. Nobody mentions the laws of diminishing returns, or the fact that many things become more valuable as scarcity increases.

    And rarely – if ever – will anyone ask, “how many people on our email distribution will get so pissed off that they opt out and never respond to us again?” Unfortunately, social media has made communication so cheap and ubiquitous, that people fail to consider the reaction of those on the other side of the equation. More important, they don’t consider the OUTCOME of that reaction. That is, what are the 8,000 people who DIDN’T respond thinking? Surely, a portion of them might decide that they’d prefer to be left alone. A subset of them could become irate.

    When planning any business development campaign or outreach, more companies need to consider Graham’s Customer Value at Risk. I give it a more visceral label, ‘Backfire Quotient,’ to remind people that undertaking any campaign includes potential to turn people off – and there are different degrees to that, as I mentioned. That’s a vital planning consideration that won’t eliminate communication that’s poorly conceived, designed, and timed. But at least it will make marketers more circumspect about risk, and it forces calculations to expose dollars-and-cents financial consequences.

  4. Andy – thanks for sharing your own experiences. Boy are we on the same page! And what an argument for both opt-in and passive web marketing.

  5. @Graham & Michel – hi to you both. I didn’t realize you had already responded. Graham, you structured approach to assessing the damage is badly needed. I’m sure it would influence many companies.

    However, we’ll likely see a die hard bunch that will continue over-promoting. The main reason? Job preservation. If companies marketed sanely, they’d employ many fewer marketers and agencies. To wit, here
    ‘s a juicy Upton Sinclair quote:

    “It’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding.”


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