Spam-Free Results

One week ago, my friend and colleague Tom Kuegler wrote an article titled “Some People Should Spam.” He basically argued that very small businesses with “nothing to lose” could probably benefit from spamming to grow their customer base.

Before I address the issues he raised, I need to don my ClickZ Publisher/CEO hat and say a few things to you, our readers…

The risk of having a web site where numerous writers with conflicting points of view have the ability to put their ideas out there is this: A site may become identified with opinions and ideas that you not only disagree with, but are opposed to. In the firestorm of controversy that Tom’s article generated, several of the emails were titled something to the effect of “ClickZ supports and condones spam.”

Well, we don’t. We’re tireless advocates of permission-based, conscious decision-based, opt-in email marketing. If you wonder about that, you can read any number of articles we’ve published on the topic.

My introduction to Tom’s article came with a pile of angry emails in my inbox last Friday morning. Tom’s a standup guy, someone I like and admire, and this is about the only time I’ve ever disagreed with him. Heck, he even gave a great presentation at our recent email marketing conference, so imagine my shock!

During the deluge of angry emails, Ann and I met and decided that we needed to put a limit on the freedom of speech that we practice here at ClickZ: no more articles advocating the use of spam as an effective marketing tool, period. We don’t want to be identified by that point of view because we are vehemently opposed to it.

Getting back to the issues raised in the article, I think it’s worth mentioning that the vast majority of businesses that exist out there fall under Tom’s definition of “having nothing to lose by spamming.” In a worst-case scenario, if his article got widespread readership among all the mom-and-pop businesses out there and they acted upon it, we’d all be swimming in spam!

But rather than quibble with Tom about the ideas he was putting out there, I’d like to speak to those smaller businesses that are looking to generate more customers and make more sales through the Internet.

You are looking for results, not complications. So trust me on this: Spamming will totally complicate your life. Two years ago, one of our writers received two middle-of-the-night death threats because he opined that maybe in highly targeted situations, unsolicited email might be OK. Imagine what these folks might do if YOU spammed them!

I’d say keep it real simple. I’m not even sure I would advocate that you try to build a web site. My advice would be to have your people ask for customers’ email addresses at every opportunity. For example, last Saturday when my son and I bought some CDs at Tower Records, the gal ringing up the sale smiled, put a bright yellow card in front of me, and asked if I’d like to get email from them when they have special sales. Well by golly, I did!

And that’s really all you have to do to begin the process of successfully using email to sell more to your customers.

Use that email list in a judicious way. Write your customers in a friendly, accessible manner, and let them know what you have that’s new, interesting, or discounted, or what you are clearing out. Make it something they would enjoy receiving, not just an electronic form of the junk mail they receive on paper. Keep it human.

If you are as Tom cited Billy Bob’s Bait Shop in Biloxi, Miss., you might even add some interesting anecdotes from fishermen who have come through your store and cited success stories with particular lures or bait. Since it probably isn’t very likely that Billy Bob could cheaply or safely ship a bunch of worms to you, it probably isn’t a good idea for him to waste his money building a commerce site. You want customers at your bricks-and-mortar store, so give them a reason to drop by the next time they’re headed your way!

Just remember that email is one of many ways that you can use to maintain contact with your customers and generate new ones. And just because you are emailing someone, doesn’t mean you HAVE to be driving them to a web site! Email, properly used, can be a very unobtrusive, friendly way of staying in touch… even better than direct mail in many ways.

We actually have a book you can download for free (in exchange for giving us some data about yourself) that covers all the nuts and bolts of email marketing that you should probably get ahold of if you want to make the most of email. Drop by, and get yourself a copy if you haven’t already. It’s ClickZ’s little contribution toward a spam-free world that gets business done profitably.

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