Marketing Gone Bad – Mindless Communications Do  More Damage Than Good. 

Early this morning I received an email from a local cardio workout studio celebrating my one year as a customer.   There were a few things wrong with this email.

1. Not a Client

I visited this studio once because they advertised a kickboxing class.  They offered a free session, so I tried it. The class turned out to be a lot of Jane Fonda-ish cardio followed a by 2 minute optional “punch-the-bags-on-your-own” session that apparently, in the owner’s mind, justified the “kickboxing” designation. 

After the class, I respectfully communicated to the instructor and the owner (2 different people) that the class was not what I was seeking.  I explained that I wanted a truly kickboxing focused class, and if they ever added such a class, to let me know. Well, they quickly added my to their mailing list, and here I am 12 months later getting emails even though I have never been a paying customer and none of the emails have ever had anything to do with real kickboxing.

2.  Completely Impersonal and Misinformed

The email celebrated my one year as a customer.  This boggled my mind.  How can they celebrate a relationship we don’t have?  Worse, I clearly had no value as an individual to this company.  I was a name on the list going through a thoughtless marketing communication schedule.  The time I took to explain why I did not enroll as a client – wasted.  My feedback about what would make me a client – ignored.  My feelings about this company – beyond negative.

3. No Skin In The GameWhen Marketing Goes Bad

Here is the really sad part.  The marketing email, while attempting a good customer loyalty strategy, failed miserably.  It was poorly written, misaligned, and offered no reward a year of loyalty.   Yes, gratitude has value of its own.  And if the email had come through as genuine and heartfelt, it would have scored some points.  Instead, it came across as a lazy after-thought with no real appreciation in it. 

Marketing Gone Bad

This email wasn’t customer loyalty.  This mindless marketing email was annoying to me as the recipient and an absolute waste of the business owner’s marketing dollars.   What will I do about it? Well, the leadership of this business has already demonstrated a distinct inability to listen to feedback, so after a year of meaningless messages, I am finally going to unsubscribe.  They lost me for good, and they will never know why.  

But as a business owner who would like to see fellow local owners thrive, this incident makes me sad.  What a lost marketing opportunity!  I mean if you are going to go through the effort of tracking customer tenure, why “celebrate” it so poorly?  Why not include a reward – perhaps a coupon for a free branded towel or water bottle? It would make the client feel great and it increases the company’s visibility all over town.  Or how about inviting the client to being her/his significant other or a guest for a free class?  I understand that sometimes action is better than no action, but mindless communication with your audience can do more damage than good.

To be fair, this isn’t type of situation isn’t limited to small businesses.  Big companies with large marketing departments and loads of “experts” make mistakes too.  Land’s End, an online clothing retailer who also sells through Sears has a loyal family-oriented client base.  As part of a cross-marketing campaign with a magazine company, they sent their catalog clients free magazines.  All went well until the free magazine of the month was GQ.  In a stunning case of poor judgement, Land’s End sent thousands of families an issue of GQ featuring a topless model with her “ta-tas” barely obscured by a lei of small flowers.

Why do I mention this?  Because effective marketing is intentional, strategic, and treats your audience like people, not a list.  If someone, anyone, at Land’s End had thought about the issue of GQ in context with the traits and values of their loyal customers, they could have avoided a very public and embarrassing mistake.  Yes, I know some will say that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but if you read the emotional outcry from former Land’s End clients who feel they were served soft porn, it’s hard to say no damage was done.

Marketing for Humans

Your customers are human beings, not names on a list.  The more personal and deliberate you are in your communications, the better your results.  It won’t always work.  It’s hard to please everyone and hey, mistakes do happen.  I know that as I expand my business it will be more and more challenging to keep my communications personal and organic.  Still, I will always try.  I may not get the timing just right and I may make a typo here and there, but I will work hard to never publish anything that makes people feel like another name on a list.  If you see me do this, email me at and tell me, please.

To all the business owner who fill my inbox with valuable content that teaches me something, reminds me to be a better person, or just plain makes me laugh – Thank You!  I appreciate your time and effort.  Mostly, I appreciate you treating me a real person. 


~Liz M

Liz M Lopez Teaches Social Media Strategies for Humans