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Is more online privacy always a good thing?

24 January 2020

We have self-driving cars, AI that can recognise faces and phones that offer mind-boggling computing power in your pocket, so why do I get so many terrible marketing emails?

Who is responsible for suppliers sending irrelevant emails about products I don’t need? I’m going to let you into a few marketing secrets that will explain why your inbox is full of well-intentioned but completely useless emails.

I’m not talking about the Rolex watch or Viagra spam. It’s the emails from suppliers you receive about products that don’t interest you. These emails are time-wasting for both you and the supplier, so why can’t the marketing departments get it right?

Perhaps the first thing to say is that many marketing departments try hard to send targeted email. It’s just really hard work. The team’s knowledge of the products and your application is likely to be limited, and the product manager who wants them to promote the product will frequently be so optimistic they cannot see why anyone would not want to hear about the new widget they devoted the last year of their life to developing.

It’s also hard to generate the content for customised emails. Marketing teams spend a long time getting the words right (we really do: I know you get occasional emails with typos or inaccurate technical information, but these are the exception). Generating the right content for several groups of people takes even more time.

The companies providing the tools also must take some of the blame. They can be difficult to use, leaving less time for marketers to create the content of the email. Trust me, there aren’t many marketers who jump for joy when told that to create an email template they need to write XML code!

The truth is that engineers can also help by signalling to marketing teams what interests them. Today there is a huge focus around online privacy. Although some of the hype is driven by the large internet companies who want to ring-fence their advertising businesses, privacy is certainly an issue that people should care about. Avoiding registering for content and blocking tracking cookies just means that you are making marketing teams guess what products interest you.

This is going to be a little controversial, but if you’re on a trusted supplier’s website, I’d suggest you try handing over your contact details and letting that company track you on their website. Once they know what products and technologies you like, the quality and value of the emails you receive should improve dramatically. If there is no improvement, or worse the company starts to hound you with irrelevant emails or pester you with sales calls, then perhaps you should grant that company less trust.

I’d be interested to hear what you think, especially if you try to signal your interests to a supplier. Does this result in more relevant, more valuable messages in your inbox? Connect with me on LinkedIn or via and let me know.

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