Monday, 9 January 2012

How email marketing (doesn’t) work


Was there ever a marketing tool as lazily, stupidly, wastefully, infuriatingly, deludedly, pointlessly used as email marketing?
I’m not thinking about those “Exclusive”, “VIP”, “Just for You” and “Private and Personal” offers that get heaved out by the skip-load from hopeful marketeers who’ve paid for bulk lists of email addresses - whether nicked or legit - but haven’t got the means to create individual salutations (this “Privileged Offer” is “Exclusive To You,” “Dear Valued Client,” but it fetches up in the junk with “Dear Esteemed Customer,” “YOUR PRIVATE AND PERSONAL SECURITY HAS BEEN VIOLATED”).
No, I’m talking about your actual “personal touch.”
Early in 2006 I stayed at a Britannia Hotel in Coventry. The big, squat block and its contents reminded me of a state-run Interhotel I once endured in deepest (communist, as was) East Germany. Room too small and too chilly, bed too narrow and too hard, bedclothes too sparse; breakfast coffee cold; eggs tepid and greasy; toast damp and floppy.
Oh, and by mistake I left an expensive new book in my room (Stanley Cavell’s Must We Mean What We Say?) and despite reporting the loss pronto I never got it back.
The only difference between the Thuringian and Warwickshire experiences was that in East Germany, we ate in silence, and in Coventry, we suffered an excruciating and interminable Peruvian-style panpipe tape, featuring an unforgettably awful, mournful rendition of “Ruby Tuesday” which can only have been designed to bustle up the breakfast room throughput and send us shrieking via our bathrooms to the checkout.
But since I booked the Britannia Hotel electronically, in the six years since I stayed there (once only, dear reader, and never again) hardly a day has gone by without a piece of email marketing from the chain. “Dear Frank, check out our latest offer...” “Dear Frank, we’ve got good news for you...” “Dear Frank, have a drink on us...” hundreds and hundreds of emails, each one of which reminds me of my melancholy, shivering night in Coventry as a drear and ghostly phrase of “Ruby Tuesday” flutes in my ear.
Were that all, it would be sad but unremarkable. But Britannia Hotels have clearly made a farthing or two by selling my name on to other groups as “A Man Who Stays In Hotels.” So now I can expect, each day, to get emails from Gala Hotels, Village Hotels (“Blackpool breaks for £59 including dinner!” – “Sorry mate. Not going for less that £65”), Hotels Checkpoint... and just this afternoon a newcomer arrived, this particular debutante inviting me to “Escape the Cold with BDL Hotels!”
None of this is any big deal to the senders, I suppose, since they must reckon that once you’ve been paid for and slotted into the eAK47 marketing magazine, it costs them nothing to shoot at you during the circadian volley.
But then again, every day I get a reminder that if ever hotels are being trashed in conversations at lunch or dinner or at a bar, I could try for a laugh by spinning out my sorry recollections of the Britannia, Coventry. And mention their deluded, pointless but persistent email marketing, and disparage also, by implication, all their piggy-backing affiliates.
As Bob Worcester has remarked, the most lethal of the world’s marketing and anti-marketing tools is word-of-mouth, and lazy email marketing will inevitably provoke bad-mouthing-word-of-mouth.
Writing this, I suddenly remember that back in 2006 the Best Western, Coventry, offered an even more inhospitable experience, which was why I switched a week later to the Britannia. But that’s another story which I usually forget to tell, because the Best Western, Coventry, forgot me as quickly as I forgot them.
Footnote 1: Shortly after publishing this blog I got my first unsolicited email from Brend Hotels, and an inbox flyer from Marketing-r-us Ltd, Targeted 5K ehsots only £299 + VAT.
Footnote 2: During my somewhat desultory research I learned that the Interhotel in Gera, Thuringia, was demolished in 1997. Odd, when the place was such a nightmare, that this discovery gave me a bit of an où sont les neiges d’antan frisson. But I was so much younger then, and I guess minor discomfort on enemy territory was a bit of an adventure.