CardBrowser -- a cautionary tale of how not to respond if you're caught spamming

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The most annoying spam isn't the Viagra ads and so on, because those are easy to get past. It's the more targeted stuff that looks as if it MIGHT be of interest to you. For example, bogus press releases are a big annoyance to me, because I at least briefly skim every press release that comes in. And so when something with the title NEW: LinkedIn for Tech Industry, Download C-level, Sales & Mark turned out not to be about LinkedIn at all, but rather to be a promotional piece by a dubiously ethical outfit called CardBrowser, I got a negative impression.

Like most people, I rarely hit Unsubscribe links, fearing that will just encourage the spammers. But occasionally I email companies directly and, perhaps after a couple of exchanges (heated or otherwise), they stop writing me. CardBrowser hadn't quite made it to that level for me, but then CardBrowser CEO Steve Morgan happened to reach out to me in a personal, salesy email.

At this point I searched my inbox, saw a double-digit amount of unsolicited mail from CardBrowser, and brought it to his attention. Instead of the standard "Oops, so sorry", he insisted that CardBrowser was lily-pure, and I must have signed up for the list and forgotten all about it.

So I clicked one of the unsubscribe links. It revealed that I was signed up with the username "Friend." I wrote back to Steve, pointing out that I had never signed up for a list as "Friend" in my life, and furthermore criticizing him for the email subject line quoted above. He wrote back terminating the conversation.

Now, the chances that I'd personally buy services from CardBrowser was in any case exceedingly low. Still, what Steve did is not good business practice. I offer it as a cautionary story because, even if you DO do your e-mail marketing responsibly, screw-ups happen. And when they do, you need to recall the golden rule that Steve forgot:

The customer or other person whose attention you've requested is always right.

Bottom line re CardBrowser: Since CardBrowser is in the business of helping people market, and since CardBrowser has such issues with ethical or acceptable marketing behavior, I recommend that folks bear all that in mind when considering doing business with CardBrowser.

Bottom line re communicating with customers and prospects: If they think it's spam, they're automatically right, so you automatically did something wrong. Act accordingly. If you push ethical boundaries in your marketing, that's all the more reason to be quick to fix any real or perceived problem with it.

Edit: My views on spam such as CardBrowser's are discussed at more length here.

Edit: Unsurprisingly, I'm not the only one with a negative opinion of CardBrowser. I presume the "Hadley" who said the following is long-time CEO Bruce Hadley of SoftwareCEO.com. If that's right -- well, Hadley is an agreeable guy knows a thing or three about marketing, and a negative comment from him about a potential advertiser of his should be taken quite seriously.

Btw, be careful with Cardbrowser; my personal experience with them was not good. And that's being kind.

Edit (April 20, 2010): I just dropped by to check out this post after a long time. In response to some comments below, let me just say that after receiving correspondence from Steve Morgan and CardBrowser, IDG's general counsel was extremely insistent that I not reiterate what I really think about CardBrowser, Steve Morgan, or the tools of persuasion he uses. Any comments I made or didn't make below should be considered in that context.

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