think before you spam
February 19, 2005 7:44 AM   Subscribe

A large client i do some work for is considering sending out a targetted 20k unsolicited email. I need some good arguments and facts against it.

The people in charge are completely tech clueless, and i need some ways to explain to them the gravity of this, the consequences, and why I personally will not participate in it.

I just want to present a good concise message to them that the risk is not worth the reward, and offer up some alternative ways to get their message out. One problem is the person in charge does not realize that this is completely different than the thousands of newsletter emails they send out from their marketing dept.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
"You do this, and a lot of places will block your newsletters too."
posted by smackfu at 7:53 AM on February 19, 2005

How are they targeted? Perhaps you could argue that it would not be as effective as they seem to think it will be. Maybe some information on the amount of spam received daily in a typical inbox, then how much of a percentage theirs would be in comparison, and thus how likely it is to just be thrown out altogether?
posted by odinsdream at 8:04 AM on February 19, 2005

If you live in the US, this is probably all you need.

What a godawful idea, good luck.
posted by purephase at 8:04 AM on February 19, 2005

I used the following to convince our VP or marketing to not start spamming our customers.

Me: Are you familiar with X10?
VP: Yes, they have the ads everywhere
Me: Do you know exactly what they sell?
VP: Video Cameras I think?
Me: Do you think they're any good?
VP: They're probably crap
Me: Do you have any evidence that they're crap?
VP: Not really, but it's a safe assumption
Me: Your assumption of poor quality was based solely on the nature of their advertising, and you're not even 100% what they sell. Sounds like invasive advertising, such as spamming, it better at hurting a companies credibility than it is promoting positive awareness.
VP: I just don't want to come off like X10, we'll try a different approach.
(I don't actually talk like that, but that was essentially the conversation)
posted by yorick at 8:20 AM on February 19, 2005

If you want to keep this client, you need to alter your attitude. No one likes being lectured. Your job as a consultant is to be their partner and help them succeed so that they will, in turn, give you lots of money. This means they will make decisions you don't like. The best approach is to become inquisitive--ask to become an observer during the creation and mailout process. Listen to what the leaders of the project are saying about why they're doing this, etc. Find ways to casually mention alternate methods of delivering the information and the importance of user research, "You know, I read this article last month. . . " and so on. You need to be seen as a trusted resource on this topic.
posted by gsh at 8:23 AM on February 19, 2005

I think the question, gsh, involves the implicit assumption that this type of advertising is, in fact, not going to help the client succeed, and in fact may be harmful. Yorick's post is a prime example. I suppose of course it depends on the audience, but chances are, they're not going to look kindly on having more spam invade their inbox, and thus, are very unlikely to be interested in the company responsible.
posted by odinsdream at 8:28 AM on February 19, 2005

what smackfu said. by doing such a thing they will get blacklisted, and some of their clients/customers/etc. will quite possibly filter mail through various of those blacklists. ethics aside, this has a lot of potential to hurt them, make them look stupid and cost them money.

also there've been some spammers in the last year or two who had fairly large judgments levelled against them, you might want to look up some of those as examples of what can happen in the worst case.

for more specific examples you could always take your question to usenet and ask on nanae -- guaranteed you will get some good arguments there.
posted by dorian at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2005

Thanks for the lecture gsh, but i dont think i would be acting in their best interest if i didnt let them know exactly what they were getting into, i'm not some anti-spam crusader, if they were some shady online viagra shop i'd say go for it.

the folks in charge need to know that it would be bad for them in reputation among their specific target of professionals and by possibly getting their email servers blocked or put on blacklist.

the list is probably bought from some disreputable email address company, all i really know is they have a list they are ready to buy and its over 20k.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 9:17 AM on February 19, 2005

Of course this type of advertising isn't going to help the client succeed. I based my answer on a) 9 years of work in interactive/new media including advertising & marketing; b) the statement that this client is "tech clueless". In my experience, once a client with limited knowledge about tech issues latches onto an idea ("E-mail! E-mail is the solution!"), it's impossible to talk them out of it. A client must be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, especially if the client has a limited knowledge base. No one likes to admit that they don't know something, particularly if they are trying to make money in that arena. Alas, clients typically learn best once they've lost money on a project.
posted by gsh at 9:17 AM on February 19, 2005

Alas, clients typically learn best once they've lost money on a project.

I don't know about you, but a little bit of friendly advice to a client has never hurt things for me. It's not as though yeah^3 is going hardline against it, he's just asking for ways to explain to them that it might be better to go in a different direction.

Even if they don't take it, I have found that the client appreciates the advice. It shows that you care about their business outside of your direct involvement. It's not pushy or out of line; it's just friendly.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 9:44 AM on February 19, 2005

If there's one thing I've learned from being a consultant for so long, it's that you never just want to say "No" to a client, even if you've got a good argument for why not. If they're about to jump off a cliff, you need to show them something _else_, and make that something else more compelling than the option they're currently dead-set on.

Sometimes, it literally is just pulling an "Oooh...look at _that_ other shiny thing! And unlike your current shiny thing, it's not even _sharp_!!" Other times, it means engaging them in a legitimate discussion, and advancing a compelling alternative that they're not able to frame on their own.

Either way, as their consultant, I definitely do think you have a responsibility to at least try and stop them from making a mistake. I've just learned that taking a principled stand just isn't likely to all probability, they'll just go ahead and do it without you, and then resent you for not helping afterwards.

I think your best option, by far, is to look at what they're really trying to accomplish with this mailing, and come up with a better way to do it. If you can make a convincing argument for how they can better generate leads, or foster awareness, or do whatever it is they're trying to do, they're much more likely to drop this idea (and probably get better results). Helping finesse that kind of win-win isn't always easy, but it's the hallmark of a good consultant, I think.

If, in the end, you can't change their minds, I do think you should probably still help them--not only is it appropriate, but if you're in the mix, you can still help them mitigate some of the impact. (Like, for example, making sure the e-mail is well-written, and that it's framed correctly with "never e-mail me again" options, etc.) In the long run, they're better off--and your opportunities to work there are better off--if you warn them they're about to make a mistake, help them make a smaller mistake, and then teach them after the fact how it was really a mistake, rather than just sit on the sidelines.
posted by LairBob at 11:42 AM on February 19, 2005

They're not paying you to agree with them, are they? If you agree with them, you're not really offering any value to the client. Only a dissenting opinion offers real value. I'd say go ahead and lecture, use graphs and charts if you have to, but if you want to help them, if you want to keep them from wasting money and hurting themselves - if you want, basically, to do your job well - you're going to have to bite the bullet and summarize the arguments above right to their faces.
posted by luriete at 11:45 AM on February 19, 2005

Well, gsh, after 12 years in interactive/new media/technology and advertising, I'd say you need to try harder to talk your clients out of making mistakes. In 1996, as IT director of a mid-sized ad agency, I gave a three-hour presentation to one of our clients, a shoe company, and to as many of our account reps as I could get to come to the meeting—for the purposes of talking the client out of signing on with an email marketing company that I knew was deceitful, and to lay the groundwork against any account reps suggesting such approaches to other clients. I basically took Yorick's approach: I showed them the spam I was receiving—promoting porn, penis extenders, MLM scams, and other bad ideas. They all got it. They all understood by the end that a company is judged not only by what is in its own ads, but by the ads in that same medium. Judged by the company they were keeping, in effect.

In the end, we talked cost versus value, and they realized it would be more effective to send out a print mailing to their catalog subscribers, in which they asked for email addresses. They got a return rate something like four times the typical response for their other direct marketing mailings and the legitimate, pre-approved list only grew from there.

I think one of the keys to them understanding is that they already knew that one good prequalified lead (ie, from an existing customer or from someone who has signed up for more information) is worth more in sales than results returned from a scattershot approach. Numbers for other non-Internet marketing proved it.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:46 AM on February 19, 2005

I'd use a combination of Mo Nickel's/gsh's approach and an appeal to how they will be perceived. Kind of a "you'll be in good company with 419 scammers, V1@GR@ ads, and bad MLM appeals, and you'll piss off prospective customers...and be ignored by the rest."
posted by Vidiot at 9:58 PM on February 19, 2005

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