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Mass-Marketing Advice from the Sea.

My passion for fishing was at one time only surpassed for my passion for business. To me, there is nothing like the thrill of racing out on the open sea at full throttle to face the uncertainty of a day’s battle against nature. It’s hard work–waking up at 3:00 AM, lugging the day’s supplies, preparing the rigs, getting bait and gas, fighting the resistant sea for hours on end–maybe hooking a big one, maybe not. Then, you have to clean it all up at the end of the day and haul everything home. It’s expensive, too–the boat itself, the slip rental, and countless other attacks on the wallet.

I recognize that you may not share this passion, but I am certain that like everyone, you have something in your life that borders on the obsessive, something that you simply couldn’t fathom facing life without. This is why people will go to great lengths to protect and preserve that which is dear to them.

In the fishing arena, organizations throughout the world are committed to protecting the future of the sea’s bounty. Strict laws regulate the fishing industry to prevent over-fishing, and numerous conservationist groups have fought hard to abolish fishing techniques that threaten untargeted and endangered species. The end simply does not justify the means. Killing 100 unwanted fish to catch the three that you do want is unconscionable.

You probably have seen the “dolphin safe” assurance on labels of any major canned tuna fish brands. Do you know what that’s all about? (Even if you do, allow me to remind you, so I can make a point.)

Once upon a time, the fishing industry, in pure, unabashed profit mode, employed techniques to maximize the tuna harvest that had a profoundly negative effect on sea life. Their huge nets trolled across the sea, scooping up everything in their paths–including unacceptably large numbers of air-breathing marine animals that drowned when they became entangled. This went on for years and years, until the rest of the world caught on.

The fishermen said it was justified: they had to make a living. But no one alive with a conscience could abide the disgrace. Groups formed and pressured the canneries to stop purchasing from the offending fishermen, threatening negative publicity and organized boycotts. The campaign succeeded; more humane methods of harvesting the sea have become widespread.

It’s more expensive, and it takes more work–but isn’t it worth it?

Marketing Secrets of the Short-Sighted and Tacky

Imagine the Internet as a pristine ocean and the hundreds of millions of Internet users as the marine population. You may be wondering, “What inspired this uncharacteristic outburst of environmentalist rhetoric from a guy who is supposed to be an Internet marketing guru?” Before you run out with your cameras to get a shot of me hugging a tree, trust that there is a business analogy at work here.

Imagine the Internet as a pristine ocean and the hundreds of millions of Internet users as the marine population. (I hope this analogy works for you.)

Recently, yet another genius network marketer that just discovered the Internet and just got an AOL account tried to impress me with his unmatched business savvy. For perhaps the one-thousandth time, I was “let in on a secret” that was going to make me wealthy in no time.

You see, this feller knew someone who could get him six million e-mail addresses. (Canyuhbuh-leeve it?! Six Millyin!) And the kicker is… it’s only going to cost $125! The numbers are obvious. Why, with just a one-tenth-of-one-percent response, they’ll have 6000 hot, pre-qualified prospects. If they close just 25 percent of those, they’ll have 1500 new customers in practically no time. With those kinds of sales–hey, do-the-math–they would spend $1250 next month and get sixty million e-mail addresses. What would they do with all that money? How many leads were they going to promise to their new recruits? “John, surely you will want to stop what you’re doing and join my downline. I’ll split the leads with you! All you have to do is use your technology company to send out the e-mail for us!”

No, I didn’t reply with what I felt like saying. I decided to save it for this column.

At first, I thought I might pull out pages and pages of documentation on the adverse effects of Spam–so named for the famous Monty Python restaurant sketch in which everything on the menu was served with the processed pork product (including Spam itself), whether the customer wanted it or not. I would, I thought, pull out examples of pending state and federal legislation that would make sending unsolicited e-mail punishable by fines. I would show evidence of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) denying service to everyone who has an e-mail address at a specific domain because of one person who couldn’t resist sending a poorly written marketing atrocity to three million unwilling recipients touting a “grate new brakethrough in diet products!!!”

But I didn’t want to bore you. Instead, I decided to appeal to common sense.

Listen, you Flipper-killers. The Internet is one of the greatest innovations in the history of civilization. Its arteries, its precious bandwidth, must not be clogged with useless, ineffective, unwanted solicitations.

The temptation is compelling, I grant you, because it is free. But could you imagine if the U.S. Postal Service were free? What if there were no printing costs? Imagine what would happen if every company in the world sent everyone in the world a single Christmas catalog. No matter how large your home, it would be filled from bottom to top with just one day’s worth of mail (assuming that the U.S. Postal system survived for an entire day). Worse, you probably would be so overwhelmed you WOULDN’T READ ANY OF THE CATALOGUES! (Yes, I know I’m shouting.) What would happen to business as we know it? Everything would collapse! And so goes the Internet.

Virtual Reality Check

Why do the big companies spend millions on advertising? Couldn’t General Motors afford to buy six trillion e-mail addresses? Of course they could. But they don’t dare. They know that sending a solicitation to someone who didn’t specifically ask for it, who didn’t give her permission, would only leave a negative impression on the recipient.

How do they get permission? By promoting their Web site in their advertisements and on their products, they drive traffic to the site. On the site, they use what we call “Opt-in” boxes, areas where an interested visitor can submit his or her personal information for future communications, usually in exchange for something of value to the site visitor. Through effective follow-up, relationships between business and permission-grantor can be established and cultivated.

“But, John, I bought my list of six million e-mail addresses from a guy who said it is an opt-in permission list.”

No, it isn’t. (And that fella who told you it was also has a deed for the Brooklyn Bridge, which he’ll sell you for $99.95). If these names and addresses didn’t come from your marketing efforts, then they did not give you permission to e-mail them. (Remember–fishing is hard work.)

“But if I have to work to get my own opt-in subscribers to my e-mail campaigns. I will have to advertise, and that’s expensive!”

That’s right. (Remember–fishing is expensive.)

Guys, remember your little black book? If you sold it to some guy in Saskatchewan, would it be useful to him? No–the women listed in that book gave you their phone number and granted you the permission to call them. Anyone other than you would have the same luck with a White Pages. And he would receive the same reception from the women he solicits–without their permission–that you will have when you send out your e-mail blast.

Learn How To Fish Without Destroying the Ocean

If you are going to use the Internet as a lead generation tool, then Permission Marketing and One-to-One Marketing warrant exploration and mastery. Start with the book Permission Marketing by Seth Godin for a widely respected perspective of the concept.

Don’t stop there. Read everything you can about Internet marketing; keep up with the innovations and new discoveries as the Internet itself matures. Reputable sources will have different angles and disagree on points of view. But they will all share this same basic foundational belief: Spam by any other name tastes just as bad–and it is the polar opposite of what works on the Internet.

We need to do everything in our power to protect the Internet from unconscious or conscienceless exploiters. The Internet is too precious a resource to let a few small thinkers tarnish it. There is so much prosperity in it for all of us that I hope you adopt the same protective nature.

It’s an adage as old as civilization itself: Don’t pee in the pool.

Be well,

John Valenty