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Social media, email, and the stench of over-saturation

My inbox is so full of "fake friends" these days that I use a web-based mail portal to delete their messages - and all the other messages I don't want - before I download my mail to Outlook throughout the day.

You can tell by the subject line that it's not a real friend. My real friends would never put "Mrs." in their email address, and they would certainly not say, "For Your Kind Attention," nor would they say, "Your" when they meant to say "You're" as in, "Your going to love this!"

These emails are so lame. So boooring! And they have ruined email as a marketing vehicle for those of us who are legitimate marketers. The problem with all channels - all through marketing history - is that they always get saturated by the hucksters.

Howard Gossage was a brilliant ad man, back in the day. He was a quirky genius who thought out of the box and was definitely ahead of his time. For a high-end shirt company, he offered potential customers a sample - a hankerchief-sized piece of cloth with a pocket on it and a buttonhole, so the potential customer could experience for himself how well those shirts were made. When he had a gas station franchise company as a client, he advertised that their tire-filling equipment dispersed pink air. He told long, fascinating stories in ads for a liquor company that literally put them on the map. He and his friends started the entire message-on-a-T-shirt craze by inventing the first Beethoven sweatshirt for Rainier, the ale company.

Anyway, Howard also gave marvelous speeches. I have one, typed out by a devoted follower. It's also in the Gossage book, Is There Any Hope for Advertising?

Howard starts the speech this way:

One time, on a trip through southeast Asia, I landed at Bankok. As the passengers got off the plane the distinctive odor of the Orient hit us smack in the face. A woman passenger standing next to me asked, "What's that awful smell?"

"'That's, uh, fertilizer,'" I answered.

"Yes, I know," she said. "But what did they do to it?"

Being an older fertilizing agency man myself, I am not anxious to push this analogy too far. I was going to say that I didn't want to run it into the ground, but that's exactly the thing to do with fertilizer - or advertising - if you want to make anything grow. The trouble comes when you lay it on so thick that you can't see the forest for the fertilizer. At which point it starts to attract flies and even fish; minnows, at any rate. And the neighbors begin to complain; the smell is always more noticeable inside the house; particularly near radio or TV sets.


The same thing that happened to advertising has happened to email and is now happening to social media. There's just too much of it. Because email marketing is so cheap, the manipulators of the world have flooded into our inboxes like a filthy, powerful tsunami.

Social media - Twitter in particular - is filled with self-promoting consultants. On the B2B side, except for companies using Twitter for customer service, that's pretty much all that's there. Facebook started out as a great way to share family experiences with friends, until the company started playing fast and loose with privacy, and now people are much more cautious with what they post. And the scammers have figured out how to hack the system. LinkedIn is still the premier business connection site, but it's also starting to get pretty littered with ads. All of this makes it more difficult to promote your product or service.

So the question for anyone trying to sell something is, how do you separate yourself from the smelly fertilizer?

By being a breath of fresh air, to start with. Relax. Don't fawn over your prospects (those email subject lines that read, "Honorable Friend," are exactly where you don't want to go).

By being helpful. Yes, there's even a lot of helpful advice out there; even that "channel" is becoming saturated. How many of us continue to get helpful email newsletters that we stopped opening a year ago? So you have to be super helpful. Consistently helpful. Helpful in a way that is actually helpful.

By being original. People are attracted to originality. However, when it comes to getting their problems solved, they want helpful originality. It's not enough to attract attention. Your originality has to actually help them solve a problem or meet a need.

By learning - all the time. You can't be helpful if you aren't always learning. You also won't survive, competitively, if you aren't always learning. But the bar has been raised even higher the last few years. It's really easy for anyone to learn new things now, given the World's Biggest Library is at our fingertips, 24/7. People are not as impressed with accumulated knowledge as they used to be. What they want to know is, how can this knowledge be applied in my situation? Whatever you learn should be aimed at helping customers answer that question.

By never giving up. You can outlive dozens of competitors if you just keep persisting, treating every day as if it is the first day of your business life. Find new ways to help people, and you will continue to thrive - no matter what the economy is doing, and no matter how much noise there is in the market.

By selling the way your customers want to buy. The best way to separate yourself from the crowd is to be so in tune with your customers that they can appreciate what you're doing - and doing for them - the minute they come in contact with any content or message you create. If you get this right, everything works. If you don't, you're just as irrelevant - and irritating - as that smelly stuff filling our inboxes and social sites.



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