Why Vendors Need Better Targeted Marketing

I always laugh when I receive spam from mailing list vendors offering me various email lists at discounted prices. When you think about it, these people are in the business of selling email lists, and if you’re going to buy an email list, you would hope that it is an opt-in, clean list. But I have never opted in to these companies’ lists, and my attempts at unsubscribing have thus far failed. They’re trying to sell emails lists to someone who is on their email list and can’t get off it. This isn’t the best indicator that their lists are worth anything. I certainly wouldn’t risk the reputation of a client’s brand by sending to these lists.

This made me think about how vendors have marketed to me and what worked (and what didn’t). When you market you should do it in a format that shows off your strengths and uniquely represents your services. For example, way back when I was director of personalization at BarnesandNoble.com, I was interviewing personalization vendors to help me create the “people who bought this book will also like this book” functionality.

At least 10 vendors came into my office and showed me their PowerPoint and told me who their other clients where. The technologies were all pretty similar, and the PowerPoints were interchangeable.

One vendor, however, didn’t do any of that. The tech guy got on my browser and changed the proxy server to route through his company’s server. Then he told me to go to our website and look at any book’s product page. When we looked, our site had been modified (by their proxy server) to include the “people who bought” data, which was feeding live from their site.

Instead of a boring PowerPoint, they showed me what they can do in several ways. They showed me their technical prowess, the core offerings of their company, and gave me a glimpse into how accurate their system was by showing me live examples.

Of course, this is the vendor I hired. To be clear, I didn’t just hire them because the “razzle dazzle” factor was in their presentation. I hired them because behind the razzle dazzle of what they had done were accurate recommendations and a keen understanding of our business and our brand. The flash in their presentation differentiated them and showed us that they understood results were important to us, not marketing fluff and a salesman with no technical know-how giving empty presentations.

On the other spectrum, a company I really liked flew all the way from LA to our NYC offices and thoroughly impressed me with a community technology I was hoping to implement. When I asked about payment schedules, they said they would take money off of ad revenue on our site. The only problem was we didn’t have ads on our site. Clearly, that company was used to talking to people like Yahoo and Google and hadn’t thought about their business model for singular brands. The meeting literally came to a halt when they couldn’t tell me how we could pay them. This is an example of a company that simply didn’t take the time to think about us, our needs, and how they would fit into our world. The personalization company, however, showed us that our needs (and how they fulfill them) were paramount in how they do business.

The spam emails I keep getting trying to sell me email lists come from companies that fail on both levels: they aren’t showing off their services very well because I can’t seem to unsubscribe from their lists (and certainly never signed up for them), and they clearly don’t understand my needs because the lists they keep trying to sell me have nothing to do with my business.

How are you marketing? If you’re an iPhone app maker, for example, your presentation should be an iPhone app that shows your skills off. Don’t just create a PowerPoint presentation and think that you will differentiate yourself with marketing speak. Show us some sizzle and back it up with relevant services that take into account a keen understanding of our businesses.

Until next time,


This column was originally published on Aug. 31, 2012.

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