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Ken Magill

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Worst. Idea. Ever.


By Ken Magill

One of the best-known names in email marketing yesterday gave some terrible advice in a column on iMediaConnection.

The advice: Email people who have visited your site but left without making a purchase or registering in any way including supplying their email addresses.

The columnist: digital-marketing consultant Christopher Marriott.

First, Marriott has probably forgotten more about digital marketing than I’ll ever know. But Marriott’s column yesterday is one of the biggest facepalm moments in the history of email marketing.

According to Marriott, he stumbled upon this idea while doing research for a speaking gig:

“I visited a website of a marketing automation company to review some statistics on automated marketing campaigns. I had originally found the company using search. I spent some time on the site and then went about my business elsewhere. Within 30 minutes, I received an email in my inbox from the company that read:

“You're invited to participate in a 1-minute survey about your 2012 marketing programs. In return for your time, you'll be entered into a drawing to win an Apple MacBook Air.
We'll announce the winner on November 28th, 2012.
This survey is by invitation only, and is sponsored by XXXX Software. Thank you in advance for your participation, and good luck!

“I don't know about you, but this is the first time I can recall receiving an email from a site to which I believed myself an anonymous visitor. Obviously, I wasn't. After examining the email from the company, I realized that it had read a cookie on my browser placed there by an email newsletter I receive from a digital publisher. That cookie contained everything it needed to send me that email. If you're a privacy fanatic, you probably just had a minor stroke. For the rest of us, however, I think this is a powerful new way to use email marketing to acquire new customers.”

I am nobody’s definition of a privacy fanatic. In fact, I am probably the online privacy movement’s most vocal critic. So I didn’t have a minor stroke. However, I did raise my eyebrow and think: Holy crap. That’s one bad piece of advice.

Just because a marketer can do something with data doesn’t mean they should.

The reason a marketing-automation company can get away with this tactic is that anyone visiting their site probably knows quite a bit about digital marketing. The email didn’t flip Marriott out because he understands how online advertising works.

The average consumer will not react as forgivingly. What is more, privacy zealots are making enough progress—for lack of a better word—on the subject of anonymously served ads.

Do we really want to give them more ammo? And do we really want to freak people out using a tactic of questionable effectiveness?

Having visited a site doesn’t necessarily qualify someone as a prospect. The example Marriott uses—a digital marketer visiting a site that no one but a digital marketer would spend any time on—barely translates into other business-to-business verticals and certainly doesn’t translate into business-to-consumer marketing.

This tactic has one niche: Products and services for Internet marketers.

Imagine a husband Christmas shopping for all the folks on his list. He goes to some sites but doesn’t buy. Suddenly the family email account starts getting pitches from

Imagine the wife’s surprise when she doesn’t get a diamond. “Got something to tell me, honey?”

Also, if Canada’s idiotic anti-spam law ever goes into effect, it’ll be illegal to send such email to anyone within Canada’s borders.

The country just outlawed prechecked boxes for Pete’s sake.

Fortunately, if anyone follows Marriott’s advice on this particular issue, the backlash will probably be so swift and strong, they’ll learn very quickly never to do it again.

Note to Marriott: I’m always game for a rebuttal. I would be happy to publish one from you here.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: danielle brooks
Date: 2012-11-17 04:46:38
Subject: worst idea ever - responding to cookie info - ugh!

Completely agree!
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2012-11-15 12:25:43
Subject: Wo nelly

Hey Candice: Thanks for te comment. I am not aware of such a study. I'll keep an eye out and if I find one I'll report it. Also, this piece isn't arguing against using data for personalization purposes. I am one of behaviorally targeted advertising's most vocal advocates. Thanks again
Posted by: Candice Russell
Date: 2012-11-15 11:35:40
Subject: Wo nelly

Hi Ken. Thank you for the interesting article. I agree that as marketers we are more accepting of the use of data for marketing purposes, since we see how it is actually being used. Are you aware of any consumer studies showing trends in the acceptance of using data? My opinion is that today's consumers have become more accustomed to personalization, but I would be interested to see some actual data or studies.
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2012-11-13 16:47:23
Subject: Wo

Bill McCloskey also apparently put this question to his list. Hopefully we'll get some good stuff for next week. Thanks for taking the column in the spirit in which it was written, Chris. I'll buy you a beer at the next eec conference.
Posted by: Chris Marriott
Date: 2012-11-13 16:22:40
Subject: Wo

Hi Ken! Flattered to be singled out as having the worst idea you've ever seen! II loved the subject line this week, so imagine my surprise when i saw you meant MY idea.... My purpose in writing those columns is stir the pot, and it would appear I might have succeeded this time. I certainly respect your opinion (hey, I read your newsletter every week) and would love the opportunity to provide a rebuttal for you to publish. Cheers, Chris