Recently, I somehow got on the email list for a national marketing professional organization that I do not belong to. In the last month, since I was added to their list, they have emailed me 15 times about three different events. That seems a bit excessive. The emails come from a few different people and several do not reveal in the subject line who they are from. Unfortunately, this group is not alone in their poor marketing practices. So much for the promise of highly targeted marketing that respected user interests and preferences.

With the political season upon us, it’s not surprising I am getting marketing from every corner. But, the ones that get me are the political candidates and groups that have little business reaching out to me in the first place. Did the fact that I signed up for my “Women’s Card” in 2016 really mean that every Democrat running for office had to add me to their marketing list? Does the fact that I don’t live in any of the states these candidates represent matter at all? Apparently, it does not.

Here is a quick snapshot of other disrespectful marketing that has reached me in the last month alone:

  • A pet care company I order from occasionally emailed me a coupon every day for 5 days in a row.
  • A flower company emails me weekly with deals, not recognizing that I order flowers 1x every year at exactly the same time.
  • A burger place near my work sends me emails all the time with special deals. They also hit me with app-based marketing. But the coupons in my email are never in my app as well.
  • My health insurance company sends me alerts every week that there was activity on my family’s account. They don’t tell me what the message relates to in the slightest way, so every message is the same very vague alert.

I’ll stop there for the moment, but it is by no means an exhaustive list.

Facebook is good about showing me pretty relevant ads, but they have not figured out how to avoid the creepy factor. This week, I got one that clearly showed they knew I had an adolescent in my household and they knew what was vexing them, which did NOT sit well with me at all. I often get ones targeted solely by age and sex, which I find more than a bit offensive.

It is laughable how often a company’s brand will follow me around the web after I do a simple Google search. These brands even show up on sites where they really don’t belong, like a data visualization brand that appears on a grocery ordering web site.

Over the years, I’ve worked with multiple marketing tech and adtech companies, and I know more than I ever wanted to know about targeted marketing. So, where is it? These companies have my data. They should be able to come up with better ads than this. Why can’t the examples above get creative, like this:

  • The pet care company could stop sending me coupons which rarely get used and instead send me a reminder that my dog food is probably running low and offer to put me on a subscription model. If the coupons aren’t working, why keep sending? They could also offer companion products. Low calorie treats to go with my geriatric dog food, perhaps?
  • The flower company might want to send me a reminder when my annual flower order is nearing. This would avoid me flipping to another vendor and would serve as a nice gesture so I don’t forget a special occasion. They could also remind me what I sent last year and give me a new, related option instead.
  • It is fine that the burger place hits me on two platforms, but if I need the app open in the restaurant to get reward points, it should be updated with any deals offered via email as well. It almost feels like they use the email to get me to come in and then hope I won’t realize the coupon is not being applied to my order.
  • The health insurance company is more tricky. I know HIPPA limits what details can be sent, but there must be a way to give me some clue what the alert is for. Perhaps part of a doctor name, a date of the appointment…something. Even making the alerts or my online inbox clickable, so I can be directed to a specific message would be more helpful than alerts so vague they are useless.
  • Google could do a better job not allowing advertisers to deliver ads based on a search term seconds after I type it in. They could also try showing me ads on sites that are actually relevant to the topic rather than feeling so disjointed.
  • Political ads should generally just focus on people who live and vote in that state. The national party could have a handful of races they promote under their brand to a wider audience, but it helps no candidate to get a list of targets that 30 other candidates just got (and spammed) as well.
  • Facebook could stop making it feel like they are reading all of my posts by sticking to details I choose to make available to them. They could also stop changing their privacy policies so often that it feels like I have to check them weekly to avoid my private posts and photos inadvertently being sent to the whole world. And, finally, they should stop collecting details about my kids – FULL STOP!

None of these strategies take a lot of effort and the effect can be dramatic. Targeted advertising feels like it helps. It saves me the time or points me to a really useful product I might not know about otherwise. One Facebook ad promised pretty, professional dresses with a science/tech theme that had pockets! Boy, I don’t know how they figured that out (not from my photos or posts certainly), but that ad was built for me!

Respectful advertising goes a step further. It lets me know why they are targeting me with a specific ad, and it offers me a myriad of ways to opt out or change how they market to me. It doesn’t feel creepy, and the company does not overwhelm me with too many ads in a short time frame. It tailors the message to me based on what I’ve ordered before or what I’ve searched for. No more getting ad after ad for a product that I just bought.

The marketing organization that sends me multiple event emails – I save for last. There is really no excuse here. If you represent the marketing industry, you just simply have to be buttoned up on your own marketing. Assess your campaigns, follow the best practices you espouse and change your tactics. This is embarrassing. It’s time to drink your own Kool-Aid.

Robin Bectel
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