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These distasteful selling strategies are for losers

Jan 19, 2014 Strategy, Success, Sunday Nation

I hate spam. I always have. If you send me spam, it will have the reverse effect to what you intended: after receiving your unsolicited communication, I will never even consider buying whatever you’re selling.

I tweeted this sentiment recently, and got an odd reply: “But Mr B, what’s really wrong with this practice? Isn’t it just clever marketing?”

So I thought I should explain this Sunday.

In my book, spamming is for losers. It is for businesses who don’t have anything good going for them otherwise: no quality or convenience or utility or uniqueness in their product; no distinction in their service.

Spam works on probabilities. It is sent out en masse, to as many customers as possible. It is known in advance that the vast majority of recipients will not respond to the uninvited intrusion. What is hoped is that the small minority who do get reeled in will make the mass communication effort worthwhile.

Wait: isn’t that what those notorious Nigerian conmen who send their bizarre e-mails offering millions of fictitious dollars do? Don’t they count on a few gullible fools believing them, while the wiser majority click ‘delete’ immediately? Did you know that spammers of that ilk rely on a positive response rate of just one in a million?

My question: why would the strategy deployed by conmen be something even considered by credible businesses? Why would you want that brand association?

Sadly, the digital era has brought with it an escalation in spamming and other distasteful practices. Now that emails, text messages, tweets and instant updates can be sent on a huge scale at minimal cost, even those who should know better are joining the game with gusto.

This leads to some unfortunate players on the field. I refuse to join LinkedIn, for instance, for as long as it appears in front of my face uninvited in the form of relentless email invites. I look on with concern at Google+, which finds ever-more unsavoury ways of forcing me to join and participate in its social network. I like Gmail; I like YouTube; but I would prefer to decide for myself whether I like Google+. Google, however, is making it increasingly difficult for me to use the products I like unless I participate in a product I’m not sure about.

As Chris Taylor, head of tech site Mashable’s editorial team pointed out recently, you can’t force people to attend your party. You should make the party worth attending in the first place.

These tactics are used even more badly here in Kenya, where top telcos have been busy sending relentless spam messages, as well as forcing people to join premium services they never asked to join. Crappy text messages start arriving on your phone, which you pay for. The only way to stop them is to ‘opt out.’ But why on earth should you opt out of something you never wanted in the first place? This is just a bad practice, one that reputable firms should never get involved in.

Good business is not done by forcing people to listen to you, or invading their private spaces. It is not done by tricking them into buying. It is not done by cashing in on the gullible few while annoying the hell out of the silent majority. But too many businesses find these practices acceptable, because they build numbers in the short term.

It doesn’t last, though. In the long run, only adding genuine value to the lives of your customers allows you to survive. The only viable long-term business strategy I know of is to put the customer first, and to allow the customer to protect you and stave off competitors. That’s a far cry from invading customers’ privacy and insulting their intelligence.

Create and run good businesses. Offer unmatched value. And then watch the customers invite themselves to your party.

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