A Cautionary Tale for Marketers: Do’s and Don’t’s from the Perspective of the Marketed-To

Story 1: Don’t Do This

I got one of those broadcast email solicitations from a very reputable organization that hosts executive roundtables. Brian (a stranger to me) wanted me to attend an informational meeting. To his credit, he “had me at hello” with the very first lines of his email, which were both personal and complimentary: “Andrea, let me first say I LOVE the name of your company and the genesis of it…the ‘new beat’ story. Outstanding!”

“Wow,” I thought, “He’s taken the time to find out about BossaNova and make a personal connection to me. He gets me! He likes me! I like this guy!”

What followed was a directive to “Read on” with a photo of a jubilant baseball team and the assertion that “There are lessons you learn in Baseball that can apply to business leaders like YOU once you understand their importance and their impact” (with a bulleted list of those very lessons). His call to action at the end of the email was aggressive and impersonal.

Brian had me right off the bat and lost me soon after. I have nothing against baseball—not at all. I’m just not much of a sports enthusiast and, truthfully, get tired of the male-oriented metaphors. Brian’s very personal appeal followed by his very impersonal (and misaligned) form letter was a particularly lethal combo. Now, not only am I a “no” for the information session I was invited to, but I have an attitude about both Brian and his organization to boot. Three strikes, you’re out.

Story 2: An Approach to Emulate

A few weeks ago I was surprised by a knock at the door—an unexpected delivery of baked goods from a local sweet shop. The package included a hand-written note from Kacy, the office organizer I had hired exactly one year before. The sweets were to commemorate my first anniversary in my new home office, with a reminder that she was available should any lingering piles be in my way, and a request to tell others about her services if I was so inclined.

I immediately logged onto Facebook (well, by “immediately” I mean right after I had a cookie) and posted kudos for Kacy, along with a link to her web site. I sent her an email to thank her for the unexpected treat, alert her to the free Facebook advertising, and acknowledge her for the lesson in great marketing. She wrote me right back to thank me, saying, “I’m so glad you like them! I never know if someone’s going to be out of town or unavailable, but it always works out. In my client list, I have a column where I note the dates of our last sessions. Once a month or so I run through those and send the goodies out!”

The sweets hit the sweet spot, for sure, far more so than being hit over the head with a baseball bat. Maybe Kacy got lucky with her choice. Although it seems to me she could have sent me anything (even one of those giant foam fingers) and the good feelings from the unexpected personal acknowledgement would have prevailed.

A Plea to Marketers

The two anecdotes aren’t apples to apples—different relationship histories, different communication media, different calls to action. That said, I find them both illuminating.

To all marketers out there (including myself), here’s my plea:

  •         DO make it personal
  •         DON’T use a personal tactic to get someone’s attention and then switch to a more generic approach
  •         DO find creative ways to appreciate the people who have given you business in the past
  •         DO use the element of surprise
  •         DON’T be afraid to ask for more work or for referrals.

The moral of the stories: Intimacy is a powerful tool in business. Use it wisely, especially with strangers. Mix it in with a little unexpected generosity and you’ll hit a home run.

8 replies
  1. Stephane Deslauriers
    Stephane Deslauriers says:

    Hello Andrea.

    Really likes your post of this morning.  I believe also to establish a real intimacy in business development is all about having a "genuine engagement" toward people we focuss on.  Your second story trully shows how the real and genuine interest and engagement could be powerfull.  Thanks for sharing!

  2. Barbara Kimmel
    Barbara Kimmel says:

    Hi Andrea: Great post. As Stephane points out, if you are personally genuine and authentic, genuine and authentic marketing is easy. If you don’t have those personal qualities (and I’ve been reminded many times that most "marketers" don’t), it’s nearly impossible to apply them in business.

  3. Kacy Paide
    Kacy Paide says:

    Andrea, I’m so happy not only that you like my treats, but that you really "get" it.  I’m always looking for authentic ways to market.  It never has to be expensive, just personal.  Authentic, personal marketing to a few ideal clients (past and potential) is so much more effective than blasting a list with a hard sell.  Not to mention, it FEELS so good to give something of value. Thank you for the mention!


  4. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    Another great post, Andrea.

    I can especially relate to how alienating language can be that erases one’s identity. I went through a period in my life where, when I received letters addressed to me with "Dear Sir"–by people and organizations who really should have known better–I replied with letters explaining why this was offensive and what would constitute a better approach. My outbound letters opened up some interesting doors and launched some great relationships for me.

    You wrote (and I agree): " I have nothing against baseball—not at all. I’m just not much of a sports enthusiast and, truthfully, get tired of the male-oriented metaphors. (. . .) Three strikes, you’re out."

    Or, "Three trimesters, and you’re out," as we females like to say. 😉

  5. louise altman
    louise altman says:

    Hi Andrea,

    Good post that get to the heart of the matter. Authenticity…honesty….trust… all in short, short supply – and sorely miss in most marketing – and business in general. Most people are too savvy these days to fall for these cheesy fake pitches, let alone tactics used that are decades old.

    Personalization is simply not enough. It has to be real.  Question as to whether that is possible on a large scale.

    The other day in a shopping center filled with big box stores (where two were empty with so sign of activity) I got a strong feeling that these stores are the new dinosauers. Done. Because no matter how many "greeters" these businesses hire or how friendly their staff – no one trusts them anymore.

    Maybe too big to fail also correlates to – too big to trust.  Raises some interesting questions with many implications.

    Thx for a good post that triggers great questions.



    PS I think the assumptions made in marketing and biz jargon in general, that everyone is into sports, can also be a turn-off. Sports, like war metaphors are like last year’s newspapers.


  6. Ann Kruse
    Ann Kruse says:

    Andrea –

    Love your stories!  Thank you.

    A situation similar to the "baseball" snafu happened to me.  I receive an email from someone I knew,  addressed to me by my first name, thanking me for attending an event.  Problem: I had not attended that event.  The combination of a faux-personal approach (using my first name) with an impersonal approach (clearly a mass mailing) really turned me off.




  7. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    Thanks to Staphane, Barbara, and Louise for underscoring the point that real intimacy in business development is all about being personally genuine and authentic. I happen to believe we all have the capacity to be authentic—even marketers! It’s a choice we make (or not). The key is to nurture and cultivate this trait in a business context—or more overtly, to demand it.

    Louise, you also raise an interesting point about the big box “dinosaurs.” Big or small, there’s no getting around the fact that trust is personal, not institutional. I think it’s fairly simple: the bigger the company, the more people there are to teach (and live by) this important lesson.

    Thanks to your comment, Ann, I have a new favorite term: “faux personal.”

    Shaula, as always you invite me to think about ways I can make the effort to be more outspoken, and therefore a more effective agent of change—with humor and panache.

    And finally, thanks to you, Kacy, for the inspiration and the poignant summary: “It never has to be expensive, just personal.”


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