Tough love: are you making these marketing communication mistakes?

Oh, look. It's my inbox. Spam © by pandemia, used under Creative Commons license.
Before the Offbeat Empire, I spent over a decade working in marketing, mostly for big boring corporations. I have seen (and produced) more marketing than you could ever imagine, and as a result I have extremely strong opinions about being marketed to.

Now, let me be very clear: I LIKE MARKETING. Done correctly, I strongly believe that it can be helpful, useful information. Done poorly, it's irritating. Done really poorly? It's a form of assault.

My Empire work makes me a target for a lot of marketing campaigns from both small businesses and large corporations alike. Both make marketing mistakes. Here are a few that you can learn from…

Email marketing

Don't be a spammer: avoid non-consensual communications

First, let's make sure we're speaking the same language: "Spam" is any unwanted email promoting a business. Yes, the worst of it is sent by robots trying to sell viagra, but even if you're a sweethearted Etsy vendor who sells hand-crafted awesomeness and carefully crafts every promotional email while listening to the best indie pop ever, you are sending spam. It's really sweet, special snowflake spam, but it's spam.

No one wants to be a spammer, and no one wants to receive spam. Despite this simple, straight-forward truth, I get dozens of emails from small businesses who add me to their company email lists without my consent. I'm sure these folks are all awesome, but when you broadcast information to me without my permission, I refuse to listen. Do not market without explicit permission. Non-consensual communications are not enjoyable.

Ask first

Simply put: do not add anyone to your email distribution list without asking first. It might feel exciting to scrape all the email you've ever received and find 500 addresses to add to your new marketing email list, but when you spam people without their permission, you're associating your business name with a sense of irritation. If you set up a new email list, make your first email an introduction/apology. "I've added my recent contacts to my new email distribution list. Apologies for the intrusion — if you're not interested, here's how to unsubscribe…"

Make it stupid-easy to opt-out

Speaking of how to unsubscribe, it needs to be really fucking easy. I worked with an organization last year that was all about women in technology. You'd think they'd have their shit together when it came to their marketing, but I had to ask four different people (four different times) to remove me from their various distribution lists, because the lists were all manually managed.

Most marketing communications apps (Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc) make it very easy for recipients to unsubscribe with one click. If you're contacting people manually (ie, just dumping a bunch of names into a BCC: line in your email) always include a line at the end about how recipients can stop receiving email from you.

This is one of the places where corporate marketing is WAY better than indie businesses: large scale corporations know they can get sued hard for anything that goes against the CAN-SPAM Act. It's the itty-bitty biz folk who fuck this one over again and again. If you like to use your BCC: line, set your signature line to include a message about "If you'd like to stop receiving messages, just let me know" so that it's automatically included in every email.

Be gracious

If you make it so that someone has to manually ask to be removed from your distribution list, always respond quickly and graciously. Don't get snippy or defensive. View this as your last chance to make a great impression. A simple "Absolutely. Thanks for letting me know!" works wonders here.

Social media

Don't abuse Twitter's @reply function

Like many Twitter users, I'm notified when people @reply any of the Offbeat Empire's various accounts. Especially @offbeatbride gets a fair number of self-promotional @replies, which is fine. What's not fine is when I click through and see that the same @reply was sent to 10 or 20 or even 30 different people. At that point you're spamming, and it's not cool.

Self-promotional Facebook comments only make you look bad

I've talked about self-promotional comments a million times, and for the most part, folks on the blogs get it. The current offenders at this point are business owners who log into Facebook as their business Page, and then leave comments to our Facebook posts that are clearly thin excuses to get their business name in front of our readers. Look, when your display name is PRETTYFACE WEDDINGS ~ SERVING THE GREATER TRI-STATE AREA, your Facebook comment is going to get deleted — especially if your comment is something like "Very unique!"

Just think it through: My business model is built on charging businesses to reach my readers. When you leave a worthless comment as an excuse to get your business name in front of those readers, it's disrespecting my bottom line. I don't expect everyone to be nice, but disrespecting me is it's a quick way to get blocked — which DEFINITELY doesn't help your business.

Oh and PS: as long as we're talking advertising, I've got a brand new banner ad zone: $20 gets you on the Offbeat Bride Tribe! Go for it.

  1. And please, DO NOT put a massive advertisement in your email signature so that any contact with you feels like advertising even if you are not spamming. Be subtle so that people you contact you if they choose.

    0 agree
  2. And do not pose as a bride or groom in comments or forums to promote your business. We can spot you from a million miles away and that guarantees we'll promote your business on the 11th day of never.

    8 agree
  3. Thank you so much for posting this information. I am the "social media" creative director for a company and never really know when I've crossed the line with other vendors/bloggers/etc. I would never want to come across as spamming another company because I know how much I hate spam myself. As always, your blog has enlightened myself and my boss (a veteran in the wedding industry). Marketing is a whole different ball game these days. We all know our clients are smarter than ever. It is nice to know how to conduct business without pissing people off, as business is always changing. Thank you!

    0 agree
  4. THANK YOU for this post!!!!

    Gaw, i just learn so much…i already know i'm a spazz on my OWN pages…so no need to be a spazz on someone else's. I've found ESPECIALLY with OBB and OBE…i find that i just truly want to contribute SOMETHING to a conversation…cause i like to oo and ah and relate…but i try to keep commenting now down to a minimum unless i am just spazz-tastically inspired by something! Appreciate all you do…I'm glad I found the empire, been learning a ton!!! LOVE IT.

    0 agree
  5. Speaking of unsubscribing, here's an extra special way to piss off potential customers.

    Once the customer has purchased something once from your website, consider it automatic consent to both spam that customer and to "help them" by automatically making an account for them. ( If you feel obliged to warn the customer about this new account, bury it at the bottom of some random 'thank you for your order' administrivia email that will be overlooked. )

    Then simply force them to login with this mystery account to unsubscribe! It's genius — after a few failed attempts, they'll probably just give up.

    Extra annoyance points for :

    1) Assigning an obfuscated username instead of using the email address, like "Gwendolyn442C1C6B-1E9F-4146-B218-E211A652DD0B". Double points if you use an actual GUID ( or know what one is ).

    2) Force them to contact the sys admin to get access to the obfuscated username. Try to hide the sys admin's contact information.

    3) When they do finally login, present them with a dazzling array of unsubscribe options, each of which has to be checked in order to really and truly get off of every fucking list you have.

    Of course the downside to this method is that the customers who make it through your unsubscribe triathalon are really really going to hate you, maybe even to the point of generating negative buzz. But hey! You'll have a nice, plump mailing list and isn't that what's important?

    24 agree
  6. Another point – if customers can sign up to multiple mailing lists in one go they should be able to unsubscribe from them all together as well.

    A while ago I signed up to a news sites newsletter. It was only when I tried to unsubscribe that I discovered it was actually about 5 or 6 different lists, all of which had to be cancelled seperately. I was actually just changing my email address, but that experience made me think twice about signing up with my new one.

    My favourite book shop on the other hand got it exactly right. They have a whole bunch of lists for different genres, one for events etc. and when you sing up you're given a check list to pick which you want. When you unsubscribe you're given exactly the same check list to remove some or all of them.

    2 agree
  7. It is also helpful to actually use the lists you (the company) set up.

    This one is a little silly, but I signed up for the mailing list for a local pick your own fruit farm. Now it seems the fruit is in, people are picking & I've yet to receive any notice about it. What was the point of the list.

    2 agree
    • Mailing lists: they only work when you don't want them to.

      1 agrees
  8. Thank you so very much for all of the good advice that you make available here. In all honesty I am using it to be better at what I do and build up how I am doing things until I feel like I am good enough to advertise here. I realize y'all don't have to help us, you could leave us to figure it out on our own. I really am grateful that you have this area to help us be the kinds of people you want on the sites. Once again you are above and beyond the call and it totally rocks! Thank you so much.

    2 agree

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