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The Cost of Doing Spam

By Mike Farrar

How much does it cost to send a piece of spam? Not an email. I asked about spam. Spam. Email undisciplined. Email unwanted. Misdirected, untargeted, spam.

It can cost a lot more than you think.

Gresham’s Law famously states that “bad money drives out good.” In olden days, when money was only coins, and coins were only worth the amount of precious metal they contained, an impecunious king might debase the coinage to make his silver stretch a little further. Problem is, once the people figured that out, everyone hoarded the pre-debasement coins, leaving only the debased coins circulating. Prices would rise, and ultimately the king would gain nothing.

Same thing with spam.

A clever fellow pointed out to me that spam isn't really very low cost. It just forces the cost of marketing onto your customers. Once marketers become unfettered by the price of real, physical direct mail, they start sending lots and lots of email, and they do so without the discipline that costs impose.

This forces their customers to spend more time reading, discarding, and even making the mental effort to ignore your email. No rational customer will allow this state of affairs to continue. It is inevitable that unless your incremental emails are providing some sort of incremental value commensurate with the incremental cost you shift to your customers, they will push back and reduce the cost-shift by not consuming your incremental emails. They will treat those extra emails you send them as spam. And unfortunately, that’s what all your emails will become in your customers’ eyes, whether or not they actually provide incremental value.

You won’t have wanted your emails to become spam. You won’t have planned for them to become spam. But by swamping the communication channel with untargeted communications and demanding that your customer read so many of them, you will have made it too time-consuming for your customer to sort through which communication is worth the effort of reading and which isn’t. It won’t be worth the bother of reading any of them. Your customer will simply stop reading.

Your attempt to make your customer pay for your undisciplined marketing will have left you paying to send messages to a person who doesn’t want to hear from you. The cost will be shifted back entirely onto you. When you thought you were saving money by cutting out direct mail, you learned the lesson of kings of old: just as bad money drives out good, bad marketing drives out good customer relationships.

Gresham’s: it isn’t just a good idea. It’s the law.


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