How (And How Not) To Market To Me When I’m in Blogger Mode

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I am apparently enough of a high-profile blogger that I get people sending me stuff and wanting to do business with me in my capacity as a blogger. People sending me stuff is always fun (it’s stuff. And it’s free), and that’s why I have my publicist guidelines over there on the side bar. Wanting to do business with me is a tricker proposition. This site is (until I am hard up for money, at least) resolutely not a commercial site, and I’m not particularly inclined to ‘ho out my readership for a few shiny baubles or whatever. Also, as someone who makes at least part of his money crafting marketing messages for various clients, and has for the better part of a decade, it’s not like I don’t know how marketing works. I know the difference between a good pitch and a bad one, particularly when it’s directed toward me. I get annoyed at the bad ones.

Now, as it happens, yesterday I received two e-mails from two different people, both of whom were trying to get me interested — as a blogger — in incorporating the businesses they’re promoting into my site. One of them did a bad job of it, and one of them did a good job of it, both in the sense of promoting their services to me as a blogger, and (incidentally) promoting their services to me as John Scalzi. As an object example of each, I’m going to present these marketing messages to you now, and explain all the ways they do and don’t work.

First, the e-mail pitch that doesn’t work.

Hey

Napster is willing to pay you money, and all you have to do is keep your
site lookin’ pretty. Napster has taken their catalog of over 2 million songs and comedy routines and acquired the rights to provide sites like yours with streaming flash-based links to their library.

These cool links will add to your content and enable users to have a No-cost interactive audio experience.

Super-easy! Your users can cut and paste these audio links into their blogs,
MySpace pages, etc. and you collect money. You get 5% for downloads and $10 dollars for each subscription. If you’d like to see an example of what it will look like on your site, checkout http://www.gumpop.com

Give us a call or email and say, “my site wants a sugar daddy”, we’ll hook you up.

Interestingly, this pitch came from an actual PR company (this one), which prides itself on being “guerilla marketing specialists.” Yeah, well, no. Here’s why it fails:

1. The Salutation Sucks. I understand it’s meant to be cool and informal, but what it really says is “this e-mail is going out to a whole bunch of different people and rather than registering you as an individual, we’ll go for a slangy, hip but impersonal salutation.” The problem with this is that slangy and hip or not, bloggers as a general rule like to pretend what we’re doing is individual enough that we deserve recognition as individuals (just like everybody else on MySpace or LiveJournal or wherever). An impersonal salutation sets the tone for the rest of the pitch to be impersonal as well, and an impersonal pitch is at a disadvantage when you’re trying to shill your wares. “Hey John” would have been fine; “Hey Scalzi” would have been even better (since nearly everyone who knows me or knows of me calls me Scalzi, not John, and this would indicate the marketeer actually knows something about the blog). “Hey” by itself, however, gets nothing.

2. The rhetoric is appalling. The language of the pitch makes it sound like I’m some anorexic skank on the prowl for some easy cash, and that Napster — the client here, remember — is a greasy, sweaty pussy-trawler who’s willing to toss a few coins my way as long as I’m ready to service him. I mean, really, it’s soooo nice that Napster is willing to pay me money, you know, as long as my site keeps lookin’ pretty. But what if my site’s ass gets fat? What happens when the site develops those mouth wrinkles from all the cigarettes it smokes to ward off the pangs of hunger required to keep its ass from getting fat? What if my site turns 26 and its boobs begin to sag by a millimeter or two? What will my sugar daddy do then? Who will I have to blow then to get this sweet, sweet deal?

Oh yeah: this e-mail was signed by a woman.

Yes, I know it’s all third-wave feminist to say that it’s cool to be sexy and hot to the men and still be woman, hear you roar and all that. But this ain’t third wave feminism; it’s some idiot marketer under the impression that using language that equates to “suck this corporate cock for shiny, shiny pennies” is somehow ironic and fun. Well, it’s ironic all right, in that Napster, once the symbol of rebellion against the idiocies of the mass-produced music industry, has now been reduced via marketing to the equivalent of a coked-out middle-aged dotcom jackass with hair plugs, hanging out at a strip club and trying to convince the new meat on the stage to do the squishy with him in the back of his C-class Mercedes. I’m not sure how that’s fun.

3. It makes it appear like the client is doing me a favor. Let me see if I have this straight: I basically put a link on my site that funnels people to Napster’s site, whereupon Napster will then attempt to get them to sign up for its service? And for this Napster is willing to pay me? Well, that’s nice. The pitch does include a value proposition for me as the blogger — i.e., that I can add all sorts of music to my blog, and that people can then cut and paste that into their own blog — but this value proposition is not purely for my own benefit, and in any event, the value proposition to me is presented after language that makes it look like Napster is providing me some great benefit by allowing me to funnel my readers to it. Certainly a marketer doesn’t want to make his or her client look desperate (“please lease us your readers! They’re coming to take away our loft! Oh, God, please!”), but fronting a false sense of noblisse oblige is not the way to go, either.

4. Dead-eyed marketing jargon. If you barf out marketing-speak like “add to your content and enable users to have a No-cost interactive audio experience,” which no normal human uses in the real world — ever — its soul-deadening qualities are not obviated by having the next thing you write be “Super-easy!” Also, bloggers don’t have users, they have readers, and the fact that the former term is being used rather than the latter is further evidence that this particular message is being tooled out by people who either don’t understand to whom they are marketing or who are so adrift in the becalmed sargasso of marketing-speak that their position of being “guerilla marketing” experts is only relative to those folks even more clueless about the blogging world than they.

5. Inconsistent tone. Related to the above, you can’t really try to position yourself as offering something all hip and fun and trendy and then let slip in painfully square marketing speak. It’s a rhetorical whipsaw, and it tubes the overall effectiveness of the work. It has to be all of a piece, otherwise it can’t even begin to be read as authentic. Hell, it can’t even begin to fake authenticity, and authenticity actually matters in the blog world. These people would be far better off simply to have an e-mail that says “hi, we’re going to try to market to you, and here’s the cool stuff we have for you,” then this mess of a “We’re hip beyond all reason, offering no-cost interactivity to your users” mashup.

My real question is not who wrote it, but, honestly, who approved it? Because this is crap. If I were running this particular marketing shop, I would have punted this back faster than you can say “bring me a skim half-caf latte.” Maybe Napster likes it, but a marketer’s job is not only to make the client happy but to save the client from its own ass-foolishness. This emphatically did not happen here. This is terrible marketing, both to me in particular and to bloggers in general.

What does good marketing to bloggers look like? Well, let’s take a look at my next example:

John,

I am a big fan of your books Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades and have really enjoyed reading your blog the past few weeks. I work for Tower.com and was wondering if you’d be interested in working with us to save your readers a couple bucks in the process. Instead of linking to Amazon.com whenever you mention a book, CD, movie or video game, you can link to us. If you’d like, we can do a couple of things for your readers:

* I can give you a reusable coupon every month for either a percentage or dollar amount off of any order over a certain amount, plus free standard shipping. OR

* Whenever you’re going to post about a CD, DVD or book, etc., I can set up an individual coupon for that particular item that would take a dollar or two off of our sale price.

You can also sign up to become an affiliate and put some change in your pocket while you’re at it. There’s information about our affiliate program right here: http://www.towerrecords.com/affiliate.asp

I think it would be cool to work with you on this, so if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to get a hold of me anytime. Also, the Muse album is amazing. I thought that Showbiz was awesome and had totally forgotten about them too until this album came out.

Why does it work? Pretty much for all the reasons the earlier example did not.

1. The marketer knows who I am. Or at the very least gives the impression he does: He name-checks the books I’ve written and via the Muse reference gives an indication that he’s aware of the recent writing on my site. In both cases I get the feeling that this pitch is to me, and based on awareness of what I do, both in my blogging and non-blogging life. This inclines me to give the pitch more serious consideration, because, who knows? Maybe it will be useful.

2. The language is good. This guy is not trying to be the hippest dude in the room, he’s just got an idea that he thinks could work out well for the both of us. The language is simple, direct, friendly and pretty much free of marketing lingo — note “readers” not “users” — and is consistent across the board.

3. The offer is to be helpful, not to do me a favor. Napster is “willing” to give me money. Tower Records, however, is ready to save my readers a couple of bucks. You don’t need a degree in rhetoric to see what a difference this makes. It’s ironic that the hip, supposed-to-be-counter-culture approach in fact reinforces the supremacy of the corporation over the consumer, while this low-key and unhip approach gets what’s important: That in the blog world, readers are incredibly important, and doing something that works to their advantage is going to be good for the blogger. In fact, let’s pull this out as its own point:

4. This pitch understands its market. This pitch is from someone who actually seems to have a clue how the blog world works — that it’s about readers as much as the folks who write the blogs. And because the guy also seems to have a clue what I do on my site — I recommend books and music on a constant basis, and I feel reasonably protective of my readers — he pitches his offer to me on the basis of behaviors I exhibit, and spins the offer to put my readers first. That’s all smart stuff for this guy to do, and it also speaks toward the interests of Tower Records in promoting itself online. Tower wants to be useful, and through being useful, hopefully successful as well.

5. This pitch isn’t pushy. It knows what it’s about — it is trying to get me to link to Tower, after all — but it lets the value proposition speak for itself, and the person writing it lets me know that if and when I want to talk to him more about it, he’s ready to work with me (as opposed to “hooking me up,” which again implies someone is doing me a favor). Speaking rhetorically, this pitch tells me that this guy is confident that what he’s offering is a good deal and he’s comfortable with me giving it some thought and seeing if it’s right for me. This is a far better method of presentation for me, personally; I think it’s a far better presentation in general.

What does this all mean?

First, not only am I not likely to avail myself of the Napster thing, but now I have a vaguely negative feeling about Napster in general; the image of Napster huffin’ and puffin’ at me from behind and then contemptuously slapping down a couple of soiled dollars for my time is one that is pretty much burned into my mind, thanks to this pitch.

Second, I actually am now thinking of sending links to Tower. I currently link to Amazon primarily because many of my readers are also writers, and writers as a class obsess over their Amazon rankings because it’s the only sales feedback we usually get. But Tower’s book prices, at least, are competitive, and while I’m not likely to do an affilliate thing, if Tower wants to offer a special deal to my readers for one of my books, that’s well worth considering. Tower wasn’t on my radar before for any of this, and now it is. And that’s smart marketing, to me as me, and to me as a blogger.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Update 7/21/06, 5pm: The President/CEO of Guerilla PR responds in the comment thread. I have further thoughts on the matter here.

Friendpimping 7/19/06

I kept meaning to mention this earlier but continued to get distracted by shiny bits of foil (and, uh, book writing) pal Deven Desai, who is awfully smart in a lawyerly way (and in other ways as well), is doing a guest spot over at the legal blog Concurring Opinions. Here’s the entry saying a little bit about who he is; here’s one of his entries about paternity, and another about Jerry Springer, and the poor bastard of a British judge who is required to watch his show for a case. Fun stuff. The rest of the blog is likewise enlightening, legally and otherwise.

Also: The comment thread is hereby declared a pimp zone. Pimp yourself! Pimp others! Go nuts! But tastefully, of course.

Die Movable Type 3.3 Die

Gaaaaah. I’m officially giving up on upgrading to Movable Type 3.3 because no matter what I do, I cannot convince the new install that there is, in fact, a bootstrap.pm right where any idiot can see it, and I am not nearly technically accomplished enough to fiddle with the scripts to make it work. Perhaps one day some geek will take pity on me and do this thing I’m clearly too lame to do, but until then you’re all stuck with lousy Movable Type 3.2, and I’m left to mutter about how this is a conspiracy on the part of Six Apart to try to get me to move to TypePad or something. It’s not going to work, Six Apart! I laugh at your one gig of disk space and 10 gigs of bandwidth! I’ve got 150 gigs of Web space, and 1.5 friggin’ terabytes of bandwidth. Ha! I say. Ha! I don’t need your lame, annoying, delicious, shiny upgrade anyway.

Stupid Movable Type 3.3.

Interestingly, as I was running the Perl script checker for, oh, the 13,000th time today, I noticed that my host is now offering WordPress for its users; all you have to do is fill in a couple of lines on a form, pick a template and bam: You’ve got blog. See? Don’t bookmark that, by the way, since I don’t intend to keep it — or, at least, don’t intend to keep that particular set-up, because the templates my host provides aren’t very flexible. You can’t put in your own designs or anything. Also, I can’t find the database that goes with the blog, and I find that, well, disheartening. But it’s interesting that blog software comes standard now.

In any event, I’ve wasted too much time trying to update the site. I’ll save any other major projects for after I’m done with The Last Colony. And that will give me time to plot my revenge against Movable Type 3.3. Oh, yes. Vengeance will be mine.