Email Marketing: How Not to Be a Dirty Rotten Spammer


Do you remember when you were a kid and crossed the street without looking? Remember how mad your mom got? Even if you were within your legal rights and crossing in a crosswalk, it just takes one oncoming car that doesn’t see you and you’re flatter than Wile E. Coyote.

The “official” definition of spam is unsolicited bulk email with a commercial and/or malicious intent. The U.S. 2004 CAN-SPAM law makes it illegal to send commercial email with a misleading header, without a postal address, without a way to unsubscribe, or if the addresses were harvested in various nefarious ways.

The definitions vary somewhat. But theoretically, if you’re sending email marketing to someone who asked for it and you’re not defrauding them, it’s not spam.

The Aunt Frances guide to spam

Now go ask your Aunt Frances what spam is. “Oh good lord, those annoying messages they send me from . . . . ”

You can finish that sentence with any one of a hundred companies. Amazon, eBay, GoDaddy, the Thanksgiving turkey farm, the list goes on and on. Companies that may have legal permission to send her email, because she agreed to it once upon a time, or because she’s already a customer.

Aunt Frances might be hip enough to have registered with GoDaddy, but she doesn’t know or care about official definitions. If it’s getting on her nerves, it’s spam.

She won’t unsubscribe (because someone told her she’ll get more spam if she does), but she will triumphantly mark it as spam. Email providers will start to look darkly on the sender. If a high enough percentage of subscribers mark messages as spam, messages start to go automatically to junk folders even when there are raving fans waiting breathlessly for the latest message.

And some email providers will just throw your messages away.

Sure, the senders are following the letter of the law, but they’re still road kill.

If you’re GoDaddy, this is a manageable problem. If you’re a small business and you just want to send nice stuff to your customers, it is not.

You’ve got to keep Aunt Frances happy

There are two definitions of “spam.” One involves a complex set of legal regulations and loopholes that apply to email marketing. The other is “crappy email I don’t want.”

If you want to send out email to more than a handful of customers, you need to live up to both standards. Not only do you have to follow the letter of the law (if you don’t and you’re emailing from the U.S., the fine is $11,000), you have to be better than the law. Just like white hat SEO, there are best practices for white hat email marketing.

Here are a couple of tips for being the Gary Cooper of email.

Make yourself useful

You’re already working toward this in all of your communication, right? If everything you send out benefits your readers, they’re a lot less likely to get pissed at you and click the dreaded spam button.

Every email you send needs to have something valuable for readers. Otherwise, why are you sending it? Just to pitch your stuff and benefit yourself? That’s not going to work, now is it?

(On the other hand, you don’t have to be afraid to sell. Unless you’re running a list that has a purely philanthropic intent, if you want readers to buy, go ahead and ask them to. Just don’t be an ass about it.)

Honor what you were originally given permission to do

Email marketing is permission marketing. The idea is, you convince someone to say, “yes, please market to me.” Then you go ahead and do that.

You don’t ask permission to send information about auto maintenance, then use that permission to send marketing messages about escort services. Uncool.

And if you promise useful tips and tricks, you’ve got to make about 80% of your content tips and tricks. Yes, you can sell, but there have to be enough goodies to make the sales message palatable.

Make sure they remember you exist

Just this week I had three promotional emails sent to my Gmail account. If I was a normal customer, I would just have marked them as spam, because I can’t for the life of me remember signing up for this list.

The first antidote to this is to mail your list often enough so that they won’t forget about you. You must email new subscribers immediately after they sign up, and make enough of an impression that they’ll still remember who you are two months from now.

Use your emailer’s autoresponder function to get a prompt string of useful messages into every email box on your list. I’d suggest a sequence of at least four or five useful messages to make a real impression. I’m partial to a ten-message sequence, myself.

(This happens to be why I prefer HTML to plain text email–you can use colors and a simple but distinct graphic style to help fix your identity in your readers’ consciousness. You can also include your photo, which helps an awful lot. These don’t take the place of useful content, but they do help people remember you later.)

If you’re still getting marked as a spammer

If you’re still having trouble with folks mistakenly marking you as a spammer, go ahead and jog their memory about when and why they signed up for your list in the first place. The king of bulk email providers, Aweber, has a great tip. Create an automatic signature that reminds the person when they signed up, what the list is about, and what to do if they don’t want to get it any more. It would look something like this:

You’re getting this email because you subscribed on June 17, 2007 to Sonia Simone’s free content class. If you don’t want to get these messages any more, just click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the page and you’ll be immediately removed from my list.

Aweber has an automatic field with that sign-up date, which makes it simple. If your email provider doesn’t, the technique still works fine without the date.

If you’re getting a lot of false spam clicks, put that at the top of each message. If you’re just getting a few, put it at the bottom under your signature.

That little reminder is often enough to jog Aunt Frances’s memory that she did, at one time, want to receive your 101 Meatball Recipes newsletter. And it helps her feel reassured that gangs of email marauders will not come down on her if she goes ahead and unsubscribes.

Lots more free info on email marketing

Yep, you guessed it. If you want some more tips and advice, I’ve got a ten-part free email class on creating great content for e-newsletters. (Virtually every lesson applies to blog content as well, so even if email marketing isn’t your thing, feel free to sign up.)

I won’t clog your email box up with crap, and of course I will never rent or sell your information to anyone. (And neither should you. It’s a terrible business practice.)

Get the free class

(Important note: You’ll have to confirm that you want to get the email class or you won’t receive it. Once you submit your information, you’ll get an email very quickly asking you to confirm.)

Flickr Creative Commons image by uberculture

The Toddler’s Guide to Salesmanship

They wreck our stuff, kill our sleep and chase away our non-parenting friends. But we still love ‘em and want to take care of them. I’ve learned a lot about effective persuasive communication from my three-year-old.

And it only makes sense. Toddlers are too small to do much, and lack their own credit cards, but they need the same food, shelter, love and amusements that anyone else does. All they have are their powers of persuasion.

These suggestions aren’t (just) tongue-in-cheek. Try them out in your own communication to make some stronger connections.

Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself

Parents of young children are typically broke, frustrated, chronically anxious, time-crunched and sleep-deprived. In this, they strongly resemble customers.

Toddlers know that when you’re speaking to a distracted audience, you might have to repeat your message 6 or 7 (or 60 or 70) times to get heard.

Repetition at toddler levels will drive your customers out of their minds. But you can repeat your message a lot more often than you think you can. Just like exhausted parents, your customers are only listening to you with half an ear. Be sure you’ve made your point enough times for them to get it.

Grown-up tip: Look for varied ways to convey the same message, or you’ll run into Are We There Yet Syndrome.

Look for ways to surprise and delight

My boy imperiously demanded some animal crackers the other day. “Animal crackers!”

“Hmm, what could you say that would make me want to give you animal crackers?” I said, in that mom way I have.

“Animal crackers, darling?” he said.

Darling bought him a lot more animal crackers than please would have. Their ability to surprise us and make us laugh is a big part of what keeps toddlers alive on those difficult parenting days.

Grown-up tip: It’s not always easy for us to reproduce the sideways logic of a toddler. Start by capturing all your ideas, including (especially) goofy ones. Set aside some time regularly to noodle on communication ideas that are “too silly” or “can’t work for me.”

When you come up with something both simple and surprising, you may just have a winner.

Use the language of your audience

The other day, my always-entertaining small person looked me in the eye and asked soberly, “Mama, is Papa maybe not a morning person?”

One of the vastly amusing things about toddlers is the way they repeat our phrasing exactly. This gets kind of stressful when we start worrying about the kid getting kicked out of Montessori school for R-rated language. But mostly it’s one of the great joys of hanging out with little kids.

Toddlers know that we hear best when we get a message that uses our own words.

Grown-up tip: One of the less-known uses of surveys and testimonials is to find the language of your customers. Look through everything your customers send you for wording you can mirror back to them. Artful, “writerly” language isn’t nearly as important as using the words and phrases that your customers do themselves.

Added 6/21: Don’t miss Bob Hoffman’s brilliant observation in the comments below that “clients are just toddlers with money.”

If you found this post useful, subscribe to my free email class on creating better content!

Flickr Creative Commons image by Kah_Zanon

The Three Bears of Social Media Marketing: Part 3 (Baby Bear)


By Sonia Simone

OK, if Mama Bear is about conversation and connection, and Papa Bear is about listening more than you talk (sometimes known as lurking), what's Baby Bear?

Baby Bear makes friends easily, and he always has a lot to say. He can be awfully cute—even adorable, if you do it right. So I hope you'll forgive him for not really being a bear at all.

Baby Bear makes himself useful

One of the smartest things you can do with social media tools is to make yourself useful. Take information, which we all have too much of, and turn it into something people can use.

Compile a bunch of good advice into a simple, readable format, or come up with a great framing metaphor to make a complex subject easier to understand. Take complicated stuff and make it easy. Take overwhelming stuff and make it manageable.

In other words, create a Baby Bear strategy: put together a whole bunch of killer content that solves a real problem or fulfills a real need.

A lot of folks mistakenly think that great content is the same thing as great writing. It's not, at all. Great content is useful. Great content does something to make people's lives better. It might save time, frustration, money or brain damage. There's lots of great content that just makes people giggle.

Great writing is nice, but completely optional. The audience for great writing is small (and shrinking), and there's an overabundance of great writing out there to consume. There are more brilliant novels than any of us can ever read in a lifetime, and that's not counting all the stellar nonfiction plus weekly doses of The New Yorker.

Please understand, I'm no fan of crummy writing. If good writing matters to you, by all means, learn to write well, and take pleasure from that. But great content is a lot easier to create than great writing, and has a much wider audience.

Baby Bear is friendly, whether or not he's social

There are true "social media" uses of a content strategy (like blogs) and then there are not-so-social uses (like email newsletters). But whether or not you have a mechanism for your readers to engage you in a true conversation isn't actually very important. Either way, having lots of useful, relevant content makes you look friendly.

The smartest content providers make their stuff feel like a conversation even when it isn't. Most good content uses a friendly, accessible voice and feels more like a letter from a pal than a textbook.

Most of us are influenced by our friends and by authority figures. A solid content strategy turns you into both. Every piece of useful content you create is like doing a small favor for your readers. It also establishes you as a smart, thoughtful authority on your subject.

Your content might suggest a rather chilly personality, like Jakob Nielsen's, or you may come across as a lovable train wreck like Dooce. It doesn't matter. Either way, readers who tune into your stream of regular content develop a connection with you over time. That connection translates into trust, which can be translated directly into dollars.

Baby Bear can't shut up

The tricky part about Baby Bear is you have to keep it going. It's work–enjoyable work most of the time, but it's still work.

A blog falls on the time-intensive end of things. The whole point of a blog is to provide lots of fresh content. Even blogs with good search tools (I'm working on getting that for you guys!) don't really invite dipping into your most compelling past content.

You also have no control over how readers work their way through your stuff. Which means if your great article on LOLcats requires a whole bunch of set-up, you don't have any way of making sure your readers have the right context.

Lately I've been falling hard for my email autoresponder. These are email programs that send a predefined sequence for you (like my 10-part marketing tool kit), which you can expand, move around, and generally evolve and refine to your heart's content. You can create a sequence of 3 messages or 3,000, the system doesn't care.

If you're already sending out an email newsletter and you don't use the autoresponder feature (you may have to dig, I didn't realize for months that Emma had one), you need to start now. You can create a sequence of your brainiest, most useful content and put it in front of every fresh reader.

And if you flake on getting your newsletter out in a timely way (like I do every month), you'll at least make a great first impression. Plus your readers stand some chance of remembering who the hell you are when you send something later.

If you've never thought about doing broadcast email but you think you want to start, in my opinion there is exactly one vendor to consider: Aweber. Their deliverability (percentage of messages that reach readers vs. spam filters) is just better than anyone else I've seen, their system is extremely easy to use, and they just added a whole bunch of gigantically useful analytics tools. Plus they're cheap.

Tell them Baby Bear sent you.

The Three Bears of Social Media Marketing: Part 2 (Papa Bear)


By Sonia Simone

OK, the Mama Bear of social media marketing is the customer conversation model. It's about connection, warm fuzzies, community, all that good stuff.

The Papa Bear model isn't quite so fuzzy. I call it Papa Bear because it's the model that makes the most sense for gigantic organizations, but it can also be an important social media strategy for individuals or smaller companies. It has a common sense side and a potentially creepy side. So let's get into it.

Their eyes and ears are everywhere

Let's say there's a gigantic packaged food company. Now let's say the gigantic company has a program to listen in on public blogs and forum discussions, and learns about a novel use for one of its products. Maybe they make a chewing gum that's particularly good at clearing dust from your throat. That might not be a feature anyone in the marketing department has ever promoted, but customers have noticed it on their own.

Maybe, then, people are chatting in forums and military support blogs about sending that gum to their family members fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, to alleviate the choking dust that soldiers are facing there. The idea turns into a modest craze, with earnest volunteers coordinating sending cases of the stuff to soldiers deployed overseas.

Armed with the knowledge of this interesting new use of their product, the gigantic company now has all kinds of options. They can create ads around this particular feature, to reinforce the conversation that's already taking place. They can put special displays in supermarkets, saying that for every package of gum sold, the company will send a package to the military. Or the company could get their PR agency busy pitching the story, maybe coordinated with making a massive donation of the gum to the troops.

None of these has the gigantic company actually sending a representative to the online forum and chatting with the folks there. But it is still communication. The customers talk, the company listens and responds. It responds with action rather than literal conversation, but does that make it less meaningful?

Remember that adage, you have two ears and one mouth? You should therefore . . .

Listen twice as much as you talk

Papa Bear knows how to keep his mouth shut. He listens to what's going on. He finds out where his customers are hanging out. If he's really big, he might engage a company like Collective Intellect to analyze what's most significant about the conversation. (Subscribing to Sonia Simone in Google Alerts is pretty darned manageable to follow. Subscribing to "Coke" or "Mercedes" or "iPod" is not.)

Papa Bear watches the conversation and looks for themes. What are people upset about? What do they get really jazzed about? What's bugging them? What problems aren't getting solved? What great stuff are people saying about Papa Bear's competitors? Are Papa Bear's support people doing the right thing by customers, or are they prompting near-AOL level rants?

If Papa Bear isn't a multinational conglomerate (or possibly even if he is), he might be able to morph into Mama Bear and enter the conversation on a human level. But it's a good idea to spend at least some of your time in Papa Bear mode. People will always speak a little more freely about you if they don't realize you're in the room.

Is it too sneaky?

Online media have an unappealing word for this behavior: lurking. It conjures up a picture of some creepy guy hiding in the bushes outside your window.

So what do you think of Papa Bear? Is it sneaky and deceptive to listen quietly on the public conversation? Should we always step out of the shadows and make our presence known?

And is listening (and following up with action) "real" communication, or just eavesdropping?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Next in the series, of course, is Baby Bear. He's adorable, cuddly, and . . . not actually a bear at all. Subscribe in a reader or by email so you don't miss him!

Flickr Creative Commons image by thelearnr

The Three Bears of Social Media Marketing: Part 1 (Mama Bear)


By Sonia Simone

The Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, who can always be counted on to spice things up, wrote a thought-provoking post for Copyblogger last week about the lack of real interactivity for the huge majority of Web users.

Bob has long held that the idealistic social media model of a rich, layered conversation replacing traditional advertising doesn't scale, and makes no sense for products like frozen chicken, floor wax, etc. Actually, I believe the expression "complete bullshit" may have come into play.

While I definitely fall into the category Bob calls "online zealot," I also think it makes sense to look at this stuff with your critical faculties fully engaged. One thing I've noticed is that the follow-up conversations I've seen talk about "social media marketing" or "conversation marketing" like it was one thing. In fact, there are a lot of different flavors.

There are three I find particularly interesting, so I thought I'd share those different models with you, along with my take on the pros and cons of each. To make them a little more memorable, each one is associated with one of the three bears. Yes, it's a dopey gimmick, but if I can use cute pictures of bears, you'd better believe I'll take advantage of it.

The customer conversation model

Customer conversation is what I think of as the "Mama Bear" model. It's all about love and connection–except when it's pissed off, at which point it becomes one of the scariest things you will ever encounter.

This is the classic Cluetrain Manifesto paradigm. Instead of mass advertising that gets broadcast to duped, mindless consumers, companies have complex conversations with their customers. Geoff Livingston expands this to say that there are no more audiences or consumers, only communities.

There are two common criticisms of this model. One is that it can't scale–not everyone who likes Budweiser can engage in a conversation with Budweiser.

The other, which I think is more pertinent, is that no one in his right mind wants to engage in a conversation with Budweiser.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind about the conversation model.

It's always a spectator sport

In any given online community, usually no more than 1% of users ever post anything to the conversation. In fact, that number can be far, far lower.

It's a common mistake to assume that the only people influenced by the conversation are the ones who actively add to it. But customers can and will watch how you conduct yourself in a conversation of this kind and make decisions about how trustworthy you are.

Hoffman's certainly right that those lurkers are not really "interacting" with the conversation, they're consuming it. But the interactive model informs their buying decisions all the same.

For bloggers, this means that your commenters may very well not be your customers–but they're providing the entertainment for your customers, and making you look good in front of them. This is not to be sneezed at.

Does that mean it's "not really social media," or that the customer conversation is just a really complicated ad? You can decide for yourself if it's "real social media" or not, and if that question is even important to you.

It works for some organizations and not for others

Southwest Air gets an insane amount of goodwill from its blog "Nuts About Southwest."

At least from my casual observation, the scandal over Southwest's safety rules hasn't cost them their community, although it must have dented it. People feel less LUV when it looks like you're willing to roll the dice with their lives. In fact, when you've convinced them to trust and care about you, it makes the betrayal hurt more. But fresh-faced Southwest employees continue to make heartfelt posts, and those posts receive comments from at least some customers who are still drinking the Kool-Aid.

Scandal or no, Nuts About Southwest works for a couple of reasons. First, Southwest has a folksy, little-guy corporate culture. Most of their employees seem not to hate their jobs, which is actually pretty damned astonishing. Southwest's warm, friendly workforce effortlessly (it seems) give a human face to their blog, and so to their company.

A United or a Delta are never going to be able to successfully reproduce that model. Neither their employees nor their management are wired for it.

Probably more important, there are people out there who actually want to have a conversation with scrappy, personable little Southwest. No sane customer wants to have a conversation with any of the giant airlines, unless it includes a lot of inventive profanity.

It ain't the only way

The customer conversation model has a lot going for it if you have the right kind of organization.

Namely, you need enough articulate, dedicated employees who can keep the conversation going. Even harder (and more important), management needs a heroic level of trust to allow those folks to be honest, even to the point of allowing them to knock the company every once in awhile.

But there are a couple of other models I find extremely interesting–what I call the lurker/spy model (Papa Bear) and the friendly authority content model (Baby Bear). I'll unpack both of those for you in the next few posts.

If you want to learn more about the model I personally find to be juuuussst right, subscribe to the blog feed to make sure you get the rest of the conversation! Catch you in a day or two . . .

What Romance Novels Can Teach You About Copywriting

By Sonia Simone

The latest Copyblogger post! It’s been getting some very nice comments, which always makes me feel warm & fuzzy.

The Hidden Cost of Playing It Safe

By Sonia Simone

safety pup

A lot of us put significant energy into keeping it safe. We don’t want to do anything that wouldn’t be tasteful. We don’t want to do anything that would get on anyone’s nerves. And we truly, madly, deeply don’t want to make any mistakes. If we get a complaint or some crabby feedback, we scurry back and "fix" what we did so it won’t upset anyone.

We guard carefully against "losing" any readers or customers. (When we should be putting more energy into truly winning some.) We play by the rules. We take pains never to offend anyone, and we believe fervently that that keeps us safe.

We are dead wrong.

Boring is dangerous
The problem with boring is, you don’t see the damage it causes. It’s easy to miss the huge majority who yawn and click the Stumble button again. You never see the customers who don’t come back because they don’t ever think about you. You have no idea of the business you’re missing out on because your communication is just too nice and normal for anyone to remember or talk about.

It’s easy to tell yourself that the problem is the short attention spans that are rampant today, or the monumental failure of the public taste, or that there’s too much competition. Those may all be true, but that doesn’t get you any business. It’s painfully easy to blame your lack of success on what’s wrong with everyone else.

Being boring doesn’t keep you safe. Maybe it used to, for a little while, but it doesn’t any more. If you want to really terrify yourself, pick up a book called Funky Business. The authors are Swedish economics professors, and come across a tiny bit like Saturday Night Live characters ("Ja, we go to discos. Also we wear black.") but they’ve got a razor-sharp analysis of the new economic primordial soup we’re all swimming around in.

I try not to swear on the blog, so I can’t tell you the Funky Business take on what the 21st-century economy boils down to, but I can tell you: it’s not playing it safe.

Remember when you were in second grade and there was that fearless, fast kid who used to swoop in and steal your Snickers before you really understood what was happening? That kid is still around, and he’s launching a lean, aggressive, competitive little business that’s about to do it again.

Being an idiot is not the answer
Being a damned fool works for some people, but I’ll tell you, it’s got to be genuine. I doubt the damned fool strategy will work for you, for one reason: damned fools don’t read my blog. Despite my best efforts, I use too many big words and I keep picking weird pictures.

So most of you reading this are, well, smarter than the general population. Which can be something of a handicap, quite frankly. Let me guess, history majors, lit majors, maybe the occasional dual-major in Russian and math? (Tell us in the comments!) And, of course, the usual collection of self-taught misfits who write essays (which you might call blog posts) for fun on the influences of Proust in Ren & Stimpy. You’re a bunch of smartypants, which is why you come here for advice.

So if Jon Morrow was right in his terrific recent post, and valedictorians make lousy bloggers (and/or marketers), what are we supposed to do about that?

Here’s Jon’s answer, which I like a lot.

Unlike high school, being a blogosphere “clown” is less about acting stupid and more about telling the truth in an interesting way. Sometimes they’ll laugh, sometimes they’ll get mad, and sometimes they’ll be thinking about your post two weeks later. Regardless, as long as you’ve captured and maintained their attention, you’ve won.

Your to-do list

  • Know what you know, then hold your ground. Don’t water your stuff down because someone got pissy about it. If you’re pissing some people off, you’re on to something.
  • Keep looking for interesting angles. Look for striking metaphors, startling examples, powerful stories.
  • Come up with some rituals to celebrate failure. There is no way to succeed except through good old embarrassing, stinky failure. I’ve just discovered Molly Gordon, and she has a great technique in her eBook Principles of Authentic Promotion called the "Failure Bow." The eBook is free when you subscribe to her weekly e-newsletter (the opt-in form is on the right side of the page).
  • Do at least one thing you think is a little tacky, just because you secretly love it.
  • Consider writing a journal every day, especially some freewriting where you keep your pen (or keyboard) moving for 20 minutes without letting yourself stop. Let the words sit a week or two, then go back through your journals and look for stuff that freaks you out a little. There’s something there you should be mining.

Related reading

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Flickr Creative Commons image by exfordy

How to Build Stronger Customer Relationships

By Sonia Simone

For those who don’t read Copyblogger, I have another post there this week on using conversation to create more remarkable connections with customers. Come by and say hi!

What Do You Really Do?

By Sonia Simone

yoyogi-girls-3 by ehnmark

Ittybiz is one of my two or three favorite blogs, and one of the few I read religiously every day. She helps small businesses with their marketing, and she has an amazing ability to cut through people’s self delusion and help them figure out what they really do.

Naomi gave us five questions to answer–privately for ourselves, and publicly for our customers. So far I’ve resisted the "meme" phenomenon (IMO not the right word for it, but I can’t think of a better one, damn it), but I liked these questions a lot, and answering them did help me see some things more clearly.

If you have any kind of regular connection with customers–a blog, a Squidoo lens, a newsletter–you might consider answering these questions to get to the heart of what you do.

(If you blog these or put them on the Web in some way, let me know with a trackback or a comment and I’ll post a link so we can all swing by and get to know you better.)

What’s your game? What do you do?
I’m a shrink for businesses–both big businesses and small ones. I help them build better relationships with their customers by creating better communication.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?
I love it and I have one of those creepy knacks. Somewhere along the line I got good at seeing through to what folks were really good at, and helping them put that into words.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?
Folks who hate marketing but don’t want their business to die.

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?
The kind of marketing I do doesn’t require you to choose between your soul and the success of your business. You can have both–in fact, that’s where you find the greatest successes. I can help you with that.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?
I’m putting together some products that will help people learn effective, ethical marketing for themselves. Straight info–no sleazy, unethical tricks and no feel-good fluff. My motivation for this has been my notable lack of success in working 48-hour days to keep up with all of the people I want to help.

Flickr Creative Commons image by ehnmark

What Is Marketing, Anyway?

In the marketplaceFlickr Creative Commons photo by babasteve

“Marketing” (particularly Internet marketing) seems to be the subject of about 90% of blogs. It’s the single most common topic for lenses on Squidoo. And it’s a generally accepted synonym for lies, half-truths and general bullshit. A lot of people hate marketing without knowing exactly what it is.

So what is marketing?

A lot of people think of marketing as another word for “selling stuff,” which is partly right. They’re connected, but they’re not the same. Selling is its own discipline. Fine marketers are often completely inept salespeople, and vice versa.

Along the same lines, a lot of people think marketing is advertising. Advertising is just one (sometimes very small and occasionally nonexistent) component of marketing.

Marketing is an organization’s relationship with its customers

That’s my definition, anyway, and it holds up pretty well for me.

Manufacturing is not marketing, but knowing what to make can be. Putting products together into interesting and easy-to-buy packages is part of marketing. Letting the product-making-people know what products turn customers on, and what kinds of new stuff customers want, is an important part of really good marketing.

It’s not exactly sales, but it is the way salespeople interact with customers, and the way that customers feel after they talk with salespeople.

It’s the way call centers answer the phone.

It’s not IT, but it is whether or not the Web site is easy to use, handles sensitive information responsibly, and does what it’s supposed to do.

It’s not PR, but it needs to be in alignment with PR so you don’t say one thing to the “public” and another thing to “your customers.” Ideally, the public will get around to being your customers one of these days, so it’s a good idea to get that communication in line.

It’s not HR, but pissed off, disempowered employees tend not to treat customers like honored guests and friends.

Sometimes marketing includes the larger political implications of the supply chain. If slave and child labor from repressive countries are involved in your production, you’ve got a marketing (customer relationship) problem in addition to your ethical (looking yourself in the mirror) one.

Marketing is everything you say to customers, whether you say it in words, images or actions.

Marketing is the way you listen to what they say in return.

That’s it, just those two. The next time you hear yourself saying, “I’m no good at marketing” or “I’m just not a marketer,” see if that definition helps you frame your marketing problems in a more helpful way.