Wake Up and Smell Your Customers

Kind of.

A little while back, I wrote an article called “My Inbox is Mine Not Yours.” My message-of-the-week was that even opt-in emails can become a pain to receive when you get too many of them.

One of the responses to that piece came from a fellow called John Botscharow. And here is a small part of what he had to say:

If someone goes out and signs up for so many opt-in lists that they lose track of what list they agreed to join, that is not the merchants’ responsibility. It is the responsibility of the individual shopper. To punish a merchant who was only doing what any responsible business owner ought to be doing promoting his business to the best of his ability is unfair and irresponsible.

That’s a very reasonable response. And John wasn’t happy because his ISP had recently bounced him in response to some customers complaining about being spammed. Thing is, John had purchased and used opt-in lists for his program.

And he’s not alone. Sure, there are a zillion scammers out there. And yes, when it comes to opt-in lists, there are many shades of gray.

In addition, current perceptions of spam work against the small, unknown entrepreneur.

For instance, if I received, out of the blue, a one-time, unsolicited email from Amazon.com, I’d likely think, “Cool, $10 off a book from Amazon!”

But if on the same day I received a one-time, unsolicited email from BubbasBest.com with $10 off Bubba’s Best fishing lure, I’d cry, “You spamming son of a bubba!”

Unfortunately, in the world of unsolicited email, customer perception is everything.

In fact, nothing else matters a damn.

Because as a business environment the Internet isn’t about the rules that merchants, committees and governments make.

It’s about the rules that customers make.

Many, if not most online vendors have trouble coming to terms with this.

In the offline world there are rules and regulations aplenty about what marketers may and may not do. Much of this is achieved through self-regulation. And companies offline are in a position to self-regulate because they hold all the power.

In fact, offline, it’s the marketers who own the means by which advertising is distributed. Magazines, billboards, TV shows, radio, etc.

The customer has almost no voice and no control offline.

But online it’s different. So far there have been over 92,403,374 downloads of ICQ chat software. Check out the views of over 1.7 million Usenet users through deja.com. And tens of millions of online users air their views in dozens of other places.

The medium of communication no longer belongs to the marketers. Your customers’ voices ring as loudly as yours.

So when John Botscharow or anyone else asks folks online to act more responsibly, he’s out of luck. Because they’ll do as they damn well please.

As merchants, we no longer make the rules. We can’t finesse the regulations about unsolicited email. We can’t sit in committees and forge out “progressive” rules for the new millennium.

Because the rules are no longer ours to make.

If you really want to learn the new rules of selling online, listen closely to the clicking of over a hundred million keyboards worldwide.

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