Every so often, I am on the receiving end of a marketing effort that makes me want to renounce the industry. Last month it was a free trial offer to Southern Lady, a magazine that positions itself for “women who live in the South — and those who are simply southern at heart.” Look, we all know how this works, and any direct marketer will insist that I must have left something in my trail of commercial data to suggest that I am southern at heart. To this, the reluctant marketer in me growls.
The truth is that we as a society don’t mind advertising. In fact, we actually enjoy good advertising. But here is the catch: There is a very fine line between the advertising that solves my needs and the advertising that puts me in a group of likely targets. As a consumer and marketer, I am far more interested in the former than the latter. I can count exactly two catalogs that have arrived in my mailbox over the past 15 years that I actually enjoy reading. The other 100 or so went straight to the recycling bin.
This is precisely why I, and other reluctant marketers, relish search engine marketing, a medium that allows consumers to first define their interests, and then deliver options. If we have successfully listened to the consumer’s wants and needs, she will respond in the affirmative with a click, and a mutually beneficial relationship is born. Unfortunately, not every search marketer is so respectful, and I cringe when I say that there is an increased use of search marketing to push product to a broad audience. Even though the consumer still has the option to click or not to click, my larger fear is that both paid and organic search results will become so littered that we risk offending consumers.
Contextual placements, such as those that appear in my Gmail inbox, seem to be the most obvious attempts to grasp at my dollars. After three and a half years of monitoring, Google has certainly increased the relevancy of ads appearing alongside my e-mail. Yet a recent e-mail trail with a developer suggested that the engines and its advertisers have a very long way to go. By the culmination of the conversation, Jenny Craig reminded me that I could enjoy gourmet dining without the guilt, iVillage had answers to headaches and migraines and a site called Sleepmedication.info was offering up tips on getting rest (like taking Ambien, the sponsor of the landing page.) While I most certainly understand the correlation between the ads and an exhausted developer’s e-mail, I found the results more interesting from a novelty, “look at who wants my dollars” perspective than from a “wow, that’s exactly what I need” perspective.
I could blame Google, but this would be akin to blaming the post office for all of those catalogs. Search engine results are only as good as the Web developers and search marketers that touch them. So how do we make this better? If you are the aforementioned publisher, I might not be southern at heart, but I do love a good recipe, pecan pie included. Try marketing your content online and I just might become a reader.