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Inbound, Outbound, Out of Bounds: When Digital Marketing Crosses the Line

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When Digital Marketing Crosses the Line

Today’s marketing tools give us the ability to connect with our target audience in new and engaging ways, the likes of which are limited only by our imaginations. As a result, it’s getting easier than ever to reach deep into an organization with a variety of approaches, but…

… how far is too far? When it comes to personal space in the virtual world, are there certain boundaries we shouldn’t cross?

To illustrate the point, let me share a “This-time-they’ve-gone-too-far!” digital marketing ploy that recently crossed my personal threshold of unacceptable. While it may have scored high marks for getting my attention, the question is, at what cost?

So, one recent morning I opened my Outlook calendar to see an invite that was scheduled for two complete days in a city that I typically wouldn’t go to. Now granted, as a CMO my days are often filled with meetings, so a blocked calendar and meeting invites are a common occurrence. It’s also not uncommon for things to arrive on my schedule without my prior knowledge. It’s one of the many reasons that I’m lucky to have my executive assistant, Barb, helping me keep it all straight.

But this invite had me flummoxed. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I was supposed to be in this city for a full 2 days. It didn’t register as being legitimate, and yet, who could have put an invite on my calendar like that…coming in under the radar and getting past Barb in the process?

After a bit of digging -- 5 minutes that I’ll never get back – I figured it out. An organization had sent me an invitation to their upcoming conference in an email AND, at the same time, sent an invite to my work calendar.

My immediate reaction was, “My calendar is off limits for marketing tricks,” which is a curious stance for a marketer.

Besides annoying me, this experience also got me thinking -- if this crossed my threshold of unacceptable, exactly where is this imaginary line for others? Is there any consistency, and what is the downside of stepping over it? Case in point -- while I now have a heightened awareness of this particular event (and will no doubt recount this story more than a few times), did the marketer behind this idea truly achieve what they wanted, or did they end up cutting off their nose to spite their face?

We want to engage customers effectively and productively, but how invasive do we have permission to be? I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all answer to this question; the real answer must be built upon a foundational understanding of your audience. What’s acceptable in a particular company, industry or society will vary. However, if a marketer truly understands their audience, they will be less likely to cross that line in the name of building brand awareness or generating leads.

In a digital world, you won’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Whether inbound or outbound, make sure your marketing isn’t out of bounds.

Mark Roberts ShoreTel Chief Marketing Officer

Mark Roberts has more than 20 years of technology sales, marketing and product management experience. As ShoreTel’s CMO, he leads the company’s marketing strategy, product marketing, demand generation, branding and external communications efforts. Other recent posts from Mark are listed below: