"CEOs can't wait to read Sunny Bindra's articles every week."

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.

Share This
Like it? Hate it? Engage here
  • Dennis

    You must be really pissed off, what with the choice of words. But I concur. I never read spams. I immediately delete them. Probably the next trend will be spam calls, lol!!!
    #I’m just saying.

  • Sunny, as usual, you are quite the Sage. @Dennis, actually, Tele-marketing is very common in the USA, thus the Tele-marketer is a much loathed creature.

    I despise Spammers; the spammer is one of the lowest forms of life; I despise them about as much as a marketer who tries to cold-sell me a product when I’ve already semad I don’t need it.

    Sometimes, the old ways work best: earn your brand respect and continue to make and push a good product. Don’t settle for less.

  • I agree and especially the telco bit. Its like being held captive. There should be some form legal framework for this kind of stuff because ideally being subscribed to a service you did register for in the first place is stealing from you.

    I guess what they don’t realize is that trust is hard to build or even recover when lost.

  • Mungai Kihanya

    I’d give you these few words of caution: Never Say Never.

    BTW: Do you feel equally strongly about unsolicited offers coming through normal postal mail?

    • Mungai Kihanya

      Might I also add: do you have same feelings about ads in the newspapers? You see, apart from job seekers and tender-prenuers, I don’t think anybody else buys newspapers to read the ads….

      • Mungai:

        I do indeed have similar feelings towards all sorts of unsolicited communication, but it is a question of degree.

        I usually toss away spam postal mail unopened. I understand that adverts in my newspaper allow its price to be lower; though I would take a higher-priced ad-free version any time, like an ad-free PVR recorder for TV.

        Email spam is more intrusive, as it serves no purpose. It us costly to deal with, and almost never offers anything of any use. When was the last time you found something you actually valued in a spam mail?

        As for spam telephone calls, those are the worst. I left a bank because it could not stop marketing calls from coming.

        My bigger point, however, is that producers must outgrow these selling strategies.

  • Nicholas Kamonye

    Sunny, I agree they are annoying and mostly get annoyed. However this is an easier way of marketing for start ups with limited access to cash and information. It may work for some and for a short while but eventually I believe most should/do move on to better ways of marketing.

    When I was fresh from college and had limited cash and knowledge of the internet , I used to spam my CV to as many companies as I could get a hold of their email contacts. It never worked though, but am the wiser today.

    Ignore but don’t hate.

    • Nicholas, I’m not sure I agree with you regarding limited funds for marketing – social marketing is practically free; the cost is in time and that time is used to truly understand your market, an investment that will pay dividends for a long time.

    • Nicholas:

      Hate? Not at all. I’m simply trying to wake young businesses up to doing things better from the beginning. As you said, many spam, few see any benefit.

  • Hi Sunny. Your article was insightful. Nobody likes spam, same as hawkers I guess.

    What would be the acceptable low cost options for small businesses? Please do an article for these.

  • Paul

    Mr. B, spam is indeed annoying. But is it not possible that start ups with a good product that people do not know about may find this to be the only affordable way of informing potential customers of its existence?

    I mean, we are bombarded with adverts on television everyday, but sometimes we get to know about products that we might need, even though we might find ads to be generally annoying when we do not intend to buy the subject products.

  • Cold calling truly ticks me off. I now don’t answer a call if don’t recognize the caller’s number (Ha! There’s one coming in now as I type this!). That someone somewhere has presumed I will get more value from their call than from whatever it is I am currently doing is just insulting!
    I once told off the caller only to have him talk back aggressively; Like he was doing ME a favour and I was too thick to realise it!

    As you’ve said Sunny, and some of your readers have echoed, it is a short term gain and such methods are getting fewer and fewer positive results as people wise up and take their own time more seriously.

    Taking the time to understand your market and engaging with them in a manner of their choosing is the only way to build long term relationships today.

    • Mungai Kihanya

      Chandesh; I disagree on the point about not answering calls from numbers that you don’t recognise.

      God forbid, but a person you care about dearly might be robbed of her hand bag and bitten…then a good Samaritan will offer her his phone to call for help…. and the only number she knows off-head will go unanswered.

      Ignore spam if you wish; but don’t let it get to you…it’s not worth that much anger.

      • I concur with Mungai about not answering calls if the number is unknown. Sometimes, people will call you with very genuine reasons, not just emergencies.

        The best thing would be to hear them out, and should it be a spammer, then you have every right to politely decline their overtures or simply hang up if they insist on keeping a worthless conversation going on.

      • Mungai,

        You raise a good point regarding being accessible on the phone. ‘Important’ people have my mobile number and can reach me any time; My land line, where I experience the cold calls, is the one that gets ignored if I don’t recognise the number.

        Of course, this all falls apart once the cold callers get hold of my mobile number. May just have to revert to pagers 😉

  • Mungai Kihanya

    I wonder; has anyone ever done a survey to find out people’s attitudes to wards spam?