Misdirected Marketing is Spam


by Samuel Greengard

It's just another sunny day in tech paradise and I'm feeling particularly curmudgeonly. I'm surfing through the 200 or so e-mail messages I've received since this morning. Amid the flotsam and jetsam of press releases and newsletters; business correspondence and personal messages, there are the marketing missives.

Lots and lots of them.

Here's what I can't figure out: how is it possible in an era of ultra-sophisticated databases and head-spinning BI capabilities for so many companies to send me offers that are so off target?

There's the e-mail ad from online clothing retailer Sahalie that displays a red headed woman in an attractive print dress. It announces that dresses and skirts are on sale. Ain't that grand. I hate to break it to you Sahalie, but I'm a guy. I've ordered from your catalog before so I'm not sure why you don't know this.

Okay, next victim: GNC. I must get two or three ads from this "wellness" company every day. Bulletin, Chief Marketing Genius: more is less. It's basic human psychology that people block things out when something becomes noise. Worse, GNC continually sends me adds about weight loss. I'm a marathon runner! Just another reason to switch off and not pay attention to GNC's e-mail ads.

Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble sends me an e-mail trumpeting textbook discounts (I haven't been a student for who knows how many years!) and Expedia blitzes me an endless stream of offers about cheap vacations originating from places that are several states away.

You get the idea.

Is this the promise of technology? Is this actually progress? Why can't anyone send me a one-time survey, offer me a 25 percent off my next purchase (or something equally enticing) and then put the data to good use! Ask me relevant questions about my lifestyle, hobbies, habits, whatever. Get the information you need so we can both benefit!

I'll give GNC some credit. It recently sent me an offer for a $10 coupon for filling out a survey. Unfortunately, GNC blew it by asking me only what subjects I'm interested in receiving e-mails about. Not entirely bad to know what I want, of course, but what I'm interested in and what I might want to buy could be two entirely different topics. Put some analytics to work!

Here's my suggestion: You have nuclear powered technology at your fingertips. Don't turn it into a Stone Age boomerang! Survey your customers, parse their data, and offer them things they might be generally interested in. While you're at it, analyze your clickstream data. Amazon is probably the best at doing this. Although it's not perfect, the online retailer is at least in the strike zone with its offers and recommendations.

Okay, off my soapbox and back to sorting through my inbox.