Get the most important digital marketing news each day.
You don’t have to be a liar to be a great marketer
Some marketers are better at lying than others. But columnist David Rodnitzky believes truly successful marketers are honest about their intentions and provide value to potential customers.
I’ve gotten the same email four or five times from different companies. Here’s the full transcript of the most recent version (company name redacted):
This email looks like it’s the result of an internal conversation at this company specifically about me and my agency. It doesn’t look like it was auto-generated, but it was.
How do I know? I get all the bounced emails at my company, and I got the exact same email addressed to several other people in the company.
But even if I didn’t get the bounces, it’s still obvious to me that this is bulk mail. Clever, well-disguised bulk mail, but bulk mail nonetheless.
The technique being used here is what I call “faux personalization” — an attempt to make spam look like unique content. It usually starts with a subject line that references a conversation that never happened, like “Wanted to circle back” or “Are we still on for next week?,” and proceeds to follow with content that continues the ruse.
Part of the culprit for a lot of this noise is a great but over-exploited book, “Predictable Revenue,” by Aaron Ross. Ross ran Salesforce’s inside sales team and used these methods to drive massive and (as the name implies) predictable revenue for Salesforce.
On Ross’s blog, he explains how faux personalization plays into his predictable revenue machine:
Make your email authentic. Email templates that look too fancy or overly modern end up just feeling fake and impersonal. The last thing you’d ever want is for someone to consider your email spam. This is why it’s really important to ensure your email feels human, not like something mass-produced.
The copycat problem
The problem with great ideas is that other people want to copy them for their own benefit.
A few years ago, I visited Thailand. On the first day of my trip, I walked out of my hotel and discovered an Indian tailor shop a few steps away offering me a great custom-made suit for a few hundred dollars. A block later I saw another, and then another, and another.
Inevitably, the first Indian tailor in Thailand made a killing. Somehow, however, other tailors found out about his success and flooded the market. As a result, rather than one tailor doing really well, you now have lots of tailors struggling to survive.
Such is the case with faux personalization in email. Ross made a mint inventing this technique and then increased his fortune by writing a successful book about his strategy.
Every time a marketer tries to copy his playbook, however, the technique becomes a little less effective. Ironically, today, the more a marketer attempts to create an “email that feels human,” the more obvious it becomes to the recipient that it is indeed mass-produced.
Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a book called “All Marketers Are Liars.” He later modified it to be called “All Marketers Are Story Tellers” with this basic point: Telling a good story about your product is okay, but lying about your product no longer works. He writes:
The thing is, lying doesn’t pay off any more. That’s because when you fabricate a story that just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, you get caught. Fast.
Al and Laura Ries, also marketing gurus, described the same phenomenon in their book, “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR.” In it, they describe a hypothetical full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal from a corporate CEO with a “letter to America” describing the corporation’s values and promises.
While the advertising team thinks that this is a great way to reinforce the corporation’s brand, consumers reading the article unanimously come to the same conclusion: I wonder what this brand did wrong? Otherwise, why would they be trying to spin the story with a full-page ad?
Again, the first time a CEO took out a full-page ad in a paper to tell his side of the story, it probably worked wonders for the brand. Today, hundreds of such ads later, consumers are wise to the ploy. The CEO is no longer a storyteller — he’s a liar!
I’m certainly not suggesting that undisguised spam works better than faux personalization. My point is that neither works — at least not any more.
There are a lot of great techniques in Ross’s book — particularly around creating processes to measure and refine your conversion funnel — but expecting to exactly copy what worked for him years ago today is lazy and will almost certainly be ineffective.
So what does work? First off, genuine personalization is always a good starting point — writing an email that is actually tailored specifically to the recipient, for example.
Even better is a warm introduction from a mutual connection. These sorts of methods are known as Account-Based Marketing, and they are really the only viable methods of marketing to enterprise clients.
If your addressable market has thousands of customers, account-based marketing isn’t scalable. Again, the answer is not to lie to your audience with faux personalization.
Instead, I recommend a healthy diet of thought leadership — relevant blog posts, free and educational webinars, informational luncheons, speaking engagements and so on. Proactive email and direct mail blasts are fine, but be honest about your intentions and try to provide something of actual value to the prospect in exchange for their time.
One last Seth Godin book that is relevant here is “Purple Cow.” Drive out to the countryside, and you’ll see cows. After about a dozen of them, they all look the same. Unless you saw a purple cow — you’d remember that one.
This is the difference between good marketing and bad marketing.
Bad marketing copies what someone else has done — the normal cow; good marketing comes up with something innovative and memorable — the purple cow.
Don’t be a liar (or at least don’t get caught) and don’t be a regular cow. It takes some work, but that’s actually a good thing — if it were easy, everyone would do it.
Believe me, I have the evidence — it’s all in my spam folder awaiting deletion.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.