When does marketing become harassment?

I signed up to a company’s e-newsletter two weeks ago.

The company had a product that I might be interested in buying in the future, and as part of my buying decision, I wanted to see how they would communicate with me.

It all started absolutely fine – I received an email welcoming me to the newsletter, and telling me a bit more about the background of the brand and what they stood for. 

A few days later, I received the inevitable ‘exclusive special offer’ pitch, stating a huge discount on the product I had shown an interest in. All well and good, but I still wasn’t ready to buy, so I made the decision to pass on the special offer even if that meant I might end up paying more at a later date.

Where it went wrong

Sadly, it all went downhill from there. I received an email from them every single day (sometimes twice a day), with content which varied from cajoling (‘go on, you know you want to’), to pleading (‘tell us why you’re not buying’) to downright threatening (‘think of all the bad things that will happen without this product’).

Now, I’ve never known the world to fall apart solely because someone chose not to purchase something, and with my marketing background I like to think that I’m savvy enough to spot a scare-mongering sales tactic when I see one, but I worry for the people who get drawn in by this type of intimidation (yes, I am going to call it out).

What is it that has made that company think that it is acceptable to terrify potential customers into spending their hard-earned cash? Are they themselves desperate and scared, feeling like they have exhausted every other option open to them? Perhaps they just don’t know what they’re doing.

There are plenty of guides out there about how to convert and keep your customers, and quite rightly so, seeing as it’s generally accepted that it can cost twice as much to recruit a new customer as it can to retain an existing one. Funnily enough, there is not so much advice out there about how to lose your customers, so here are my five top tips.

How to lose your customers (in five easy steps)

  1. Contact them too often – remember that perception can override reality, so a customer who already thinks they are getting too much contact from you will see every new email or phone call as reinforcing this, and may perceive that you are contacting them even more frequently than they are.
  2. Treat your customer as a number – no matter how often you use their name in the subject line, if your communication doesn’t acknowledge where they are on their customer journey, you are not treating them as an individual or respecting their requirements.
  3. Use threatening or bullying language – no-one loves a threat apart from a bully. Start threatening to steal their lunch money or predicting doom and gloom, and see how quickly your customers walk.
  4. Be pushy – the more you push, the more resistance you will meet. Be too pushy and you can guarantee you will drive your potential customers to look elsewhere.
  5. Keep nagging them – if at first you don’t succeed, keep driving your customers away! Persistence is not always a positive trait.

The alternative approach

There is definitely a better way – and it starts with mutual respect.

I would never want my clients to commission me out of fear of what might happen if they don’t. I don’t think that’s a risk as I’m really not that scary, but all the same, I shudder at the thought.

I want my customers to value the work that I do and see the benefit to their business – otherwise, neither of us will be happy. And life’s just too short for that.