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Social selling is the creepiest retail technology invention of all

Nick Booth
hmv 300x225 Social selling is the creepiest retail technology invention of all

HMV which has now gone into administration (Getty Images)

Conventional wisdom from all the self-appointed online experts on social selling is that businesses need to Tweet and Facebook their customers to within an inch of their lives. You’ve seen the kind of thing: “Hello, I’m on the toilet! Quilted Kleenex is the new cool! Lemon scented soap? LOL!”

I’m not convinced that these sales tactics would have saved HMV. But there’s no shortage of social media and digital marketing experts who advocate this sort of nonsense. And plenty of panic-stricken old fashioned retailers who will fall for it. They’ve been indulged in this obsessive behaviour because their bosses and clients have always been convinced that this new fangled digital technology is the future.

Like those conmen who convince hospital administrators that they are surgeons, through a combination of pomposity and jargon, these digital gurus don’t have a past anyone can investigate. All they have is a connection to the future – which nobody feels confident enough to question.

Now, thank goodness, we are discovering some of the back story of the email marketing manager (an early digital marketing prototype) and it isn’t very pretty. New research shows consumers secretly hate being bombarded with email marketing. (Who’d have thought it?)

Actually, it’s only been a secret to the e-marketing crowd. Everyone else knows that being plagued with junk mail, whether shoved through your door or your inbox, is oppressive. But most marketing managers aren’t very good at listening to people. They’re too busy commissioning surveys whose findings must dovetail perfectly with whatever glib message they’re trying to put out. Either that or they’re giving lectures at marketing technology trade shows, where they tell us how consumers love to have ‘conversations’ with their ‘favourite brands’.

It appears that no, they don’t. Though it only scratches the surface, a new YouGov study says that email marketing correspondence can make consumers online resent a company or brand. The vast majority of those surveyed by YouGov (75 per cent) said they would resent a brand after being bombarded by emails. In most cases (71 per cent) it was the arrival of unsolicited messages that was the primary reason to become resentful.

Getting your name wrong  (50 per cent) and your gender wrong (40 per cent) are also key causes of resentment. As a result, 40 per cent of us have learned never to share personal details with a company, even when they dangle an incentive, like an offer.

It’s commonly accepted that “You Could Win an Ipad” is the biggest lie in modern life. It overtook “The Cheque is in the Post” and “I Love You” a couple of years ago. Older people are much more cautious. In the over 55 age group, 49 per cent of those surveyed said they withhold all personal information from a company.

I think this might disappoint Emailvision, the company that sponsored the survey. Retailers who use marketing technology have a massive job on their hands to win back the trust of the public, according to Emailvision’s director Neil Hamilton.

“When a visitor interacts with your online business, they are giving you their data in exchange for a relevant experience with your brand,” says Hamilton. Says who? Surely most people buy things online because it’s cheaper? Does anyone really want an ‘experience’ with a brand?

Hamilton goes on to say: “It’s imperative that a customer never becomes just a number even in a database of millions”.

“Technology enables all businesses to treat their customers to a personalised experience across multiple sales channels.”

In my opinion the problem with social selling is that it hitches onto personal recommendation, which is a natural phenomenon based on genuine sentiment, and tries to hijack it for marketing purposes. It does this by creating a profit motive for recommendations, so we all end up being tempted to push stuff that we don’t believe in. Worst of all, we do this to the very people (our friends and family) whose trust we should never betray.

So this type of retail technology, social selling, turns us all into cheesey pyramid salesmen and women. Call me old fashioned, but I think that’s awful. I expect a YouGov survey will one reflect this sentiment. In about 10 year’s time.

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  • John McGinty

    One of the key issues is the price of entry. Traditional (pre-internet) marketing had significant cost and limited range: TV, Radio, press and therefore it had to be more thought through. Instant messaging (posts, tweets, email, notifications etc) on the other hand are largely algorithm based and very cheap to implement with a perceptive of minimal brand damage leading to more “marketing”.

    Anything that interrupts the conscious of a consumer should either be predictable – weekly email/tweet whatever; or in response to a customer positive action – asking a question, walking into a store, having made a purchase.

    Consumers (as these comments prove) are very savvy with how to handle messages and you can forget IP reputation for inbox deliverability think brand reputation as that’s consumers interactive with.

  • John McGinty

    oh and its not the creepiest – this is … Mannequins spy on shoppers to boost sales http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/futureoftech/mannequins-spy-shoppers-boost-sales-1C7204162 (proper creepy).

    Thankful there is this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21143017 : A pair of glasses dubbed a “privacy visor” …


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