Do you think I look good in support pantyhose?

One company obviously thinks so. Because soon after I politely made an online order on behalf of one of my older relatives, I started receiving a daily email advertising the latest deals in support pantyhose. Even though I never asked for it. Even though I am male. And even though I am not elderly (oh, all right on that one – almost 60. But that isn’t old in my book. Not yet anyway.)

Businesses devote a great deal of press to the idea of “customer engagement.” Too often, here is what it boils down to: getting an email every day, for a product that even the most die-hard fans (if you call it that – “Oh boy, I’m getting more support stockings today!”) probably purchase once in a great while. And could not care less about. But there they are, in my inbox, like relatives who won’t go away.

Of course, it is perfectly legal to ping me incessantly, because these people have a quote-unquote “prior business relationship” with me. Just like it would be perfectly legal for me to call someone I just met on Facebook and invite myself over for dinner. But both are really stupid ideas. Here’s why:

It’s ineffective. What percentage of people getting these emails actually drop everything, go online, and order support stockings? I do not know, but I highly doubt that it is 10 percent. Or one percent. Or even a small fraction of one percent.

You didn’t ask my permission. If I search for your products and find your company on the Internet, there is an X chance that I will do business with you. But if you bombard me with unwanted emails, the chance that I will do business with you now drops to less than X. Probably much less.

It’s too often. Picture this. You go bowling. The next day, emails start showing up advertising specials on bowling balls. Every single day. Do these emails make you want to get out and bowl? Bonus question: Do these emails make you any more likely to seek out these pests next time you need a bowling ball?

It doesn’t interest me. This is where the whole customer engagement model breaks down. Only in very rare circumstances am I truly interested in your business – for example, if I “like” your corporate fan page. (And no, that isn’t the same as hitting “like” on your page to get some freebie. That’s more like hostage-taking.) Just because I purchase something from you doesn’t qualify as an “interest.”

What you are seeing is a good example of non-permission-based email marketing. Better known as annoying-the-crap-out-of-the-many-to-reach-the-few marketing. Why do people keep doing it? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, because they can. But that doesn’t mean that you should. Ever.

Instead, build your market presence. Be where people will find you when they are looking. Create and share information that helps people. Build relationships instead of peck, peck, pecking at them with unsolicited emails. Meanwhile, I’m going to let other people wear the pantyhose in my family.

Has this ever happened to you? Did it work? Are you guilty of something like this in your business? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.