July 27, 2009    /    by

Marketing Hype: Dealing with Email, Phone and Other Advertising Tricks

  A few times a year I feel the need to rant. This blog entry is one of those times, and the topic is dealing ...


A few times a year I feel the need to rant. This blog entry is one of those times, and the topic is dealing with the annoying emails, phone calls, and other contacts that regularly cross the paths of government technology professionals in 2009.  Yes, we all know about bank phishing scams or Viagra spam, but these are from (supposedly) reputable technology companies that are trying to grow their business or from other professional organizations who are trying to impress us. They often come across like desperate rookies screaming for attention.

Allow me to start with a few actual email marketing examples. I'm just copying the subject lines here, but each of these emails contain attention-grabbing intro paragraphs, flashing media or impressive charts that are sure to entertain and prompt action - NOT. Note that these examples were able to make it through our excellent spam filter (which block more than 90% of incoming government email). 

$5 Billion in Data Center Savings: Stake Your Claim Now

 Following Up on Our Conversation at RSA Last Week -- (Note: I wasn't at RSA last week) 

 RE: Our phone call -- (Note: There was no original email or call)

 Where were you yesterday? I can fix that problem -- (Note: what problem?)

 How to Save 90% on IT Operations! -- (Note: I guess you want me to lay everyone off?)

 Free IPOD: One out of Three Callers Win -- (Note: The giveaways seem endless)

             One more Virtual Chance: Don't Miss the Technology Boat Again! -- (Note: Using shame - WOW)

ACTION: We need Your Unique Perspective -- (Note: the opposite, using ego)

             Hi Old Friend -- (Note: I have no idea who this person is)

             Why You Need to Talk To "My-Company" Now! -- (Note: I changed the name to protect the guilty)


Here's one of my favorites (with an excerpt from the full email). Note that "fun" destinations for conferences/seminars are out right now. In fact, many of us can't even travel to Orlando or in some cases leave our state, but along comes an opportunity to travel to an island that makes Hawaii seem close.  

Subject: Free Luxury Seminar: Outsource Your Data Center to Mauritus

to CIOs, IT Directors and Data Centre Senior Management

Presenting new Opportunities for Hosting, Data Storage,
Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity in Mauritius

Dear Colleague,
On behalf of the Board of Investment, Mauritius, we would like to invite you
to join a 2-day seminar designed to inform and advise IT enterprise decision
makers about the business benefits and opportunities the island presents.

Why Mauritius?
Although renowned as a luxury destination, the island is also an outstanding
location for housing IT and offshoring data centre services. With connectivity
to 4 subsea pipes, an increasingly developed infrastructure, skilled work
force and many incentives for businesses to establish data centres on the
island, Mauritius is significantly well placed to cater for regional and
international enterprises.

The phone calls we receive can be just as interesting. My executive assistant sometimes filters a dozen cold calls a week. People claim just about everything from being a friend or former colleague to even being a relative (sure way to not impress.)  Some demand to speak with the CTO immediately, and others hang up when they hear an assistant's voice. It is especially hard when I return from a conference if I have handed out business cards. Lots of companies tell my assistant that they need a follow-up meeting, but far fewer promises were actually made. Others use deceptive but intriguing offers like, "We'd like Mr. Lohrmann to come to present at our company event/seminar." Later, we discover that this is just another sales technique.

So what's my point for technology companies or their marketing colleagues? These tricks and sneaky techniques usually backfire. I generally ignore or delete these types of emails or phone messages. Occasionally I get a good laugh as I think about the time and energy that was expended to develop these tempting offers. Rarely do I establish an ongoing partnership with related companies. 

I can only remember two exceptions over the past decade. Once I developed an overly negative view of a company that was advertising with outlandish gimmicks. My perception changed after meeting several smart people who had real answers to hard questions and good product offerings. But in that case my negative perception only changed by old-fashioned expertise and quality relationship-building. The initial marketing was a barrier that needed to be overcome.  

So here comes my traditional advice for young technology companies and marketing professionals:

1) Be honest with initial (and all) contacts. Misrepresenting your way into a VIP's office may lead to a new conversation with the right person, but what happens after that? Usually, not much, and you probably won't get a second chance.

2) Don't over-hype your product/solution to get attention by promising unachievable metrics or making incredible claims. It may work online to attract viral YouTube video traffic, but this type of marketing turns off most of the technology executives that I know.

3) Build relationships the old fashioned way - earn trust and a positive reputation. Yes, you can use LinkedIn, website contacts or the numerous other new media avenues to help get in the door. However, don't pretend to offer something you can't. Do your homework before blasting the Internet with "personalized spam." (I've even received emails that start by spelling my name wrong or calling me Ms. Lohrmann.  Delete.)

Some readers are probably thinking: "Come on Dan, just deal with it. Read, delete, or get a better spam filter and move on."

Nevertheless, I want to point out that exaggerated claims by so many make it harder for everyone to discern the bad from the good and the good from the great. Where should we spend our time? No doubt, we are overlooking a few diamonds. Getting to the real answers takes time and energy, and most of us don't have a ton of extra hours in a day. True, we can rely on third party commentary from companies like Gartner and Forrester, but I often want to come to my own conclusion.

OK, enough ranting for a few months.

Got any good war stories about funny cold calls or entertaining emails? Please share them with us in the comments section (even if you need to be anonymous).

Or, what's your opinion? Am I overreacting?