The most amazing life lesson in marketing.
I do some contracting work for a non-profit and recently thee non-profit created a campaign, targeting a small section of their local membership based, via their website to support their mission. The campaign was clear, very honorable in its intentions, and was giving something away a gift thanks. And this wasn’t just a cheap give away item. It had value both financially and usewise. The campaign had all the makings of a successful campaign if the appropriate effort was put into it.

Overnight something wholly amazing happened.
They opened their email box one morning a month into the passively pushed campaign and found they had, honest to Bob, over 7,000 submissions requesting to be a part of the campaign. Emails poured in from all over the nation taking part in the submission. We all clamored to the marketers’ desk to see this with our own eyes. An email box so overloaded with requests it called to mind the commercial of the new business that puts its store online and the orders just keep going up, and up, and up. Just like the emails that continued to pour in.

From joy to panic.
Some thought it was spam. Some were excited at the potential of something they did being that “viral”. Some freaked out at how they were going to service all of the requests with a limited supply.

With one of their web team helping, I started looking through some of the emails to see if we could detect signs of spamming. We couldn’t find any that were that obvious. The submission forms were filled out were each unique, accurate, and different, that the only thing that kept the curiosity of it being spam was the frequency of how these came in. It was roughly twenty emails a minute with each second a part from each other.

The Google Search is strong with this one.
So there we sat, debating on what to do, and I thought “Google will have the answer”. I threw the name of the campaign between some quotes in Google’s search box and hit send. My screen, and Google’s Search results, were maxed out with Freebie Sites, sites that do nothing but list where to find, and how to get, free stuff online, listing the “Free Gift” that came with campaign and how to get it.

I figured, “if it’s already this deep into Google…where else could it be”. I turned m search to the tools of Social Media. The links started popping up on Twitter with a link back to the directions on how to get the “Free Gift”. It was in different spots all throughout Social Media.

In a very short time, less then ten hours, the “Free Gift” had spread like wild fire. It was time for some damage control.

From excitement to frustration
From there, I created a timeline of when the first Freebie Site listed the campaign, which linked off of it, when other posts picked it up, and cross referenced it with when the emails came in and how often they spiked. Yeah, I know, I’m a geek. My wife reminds me constantly. Sure enough, the spike in email requests coincided with each time the campaign appeared on a Freebie Site.

This wasn’t spam after all, but an army of people who collectively thought the “Free Gift” was worth their time to blog about the “Free Gift” and share how sign up for it. They rallied their own troops, got the message out, and took action on it. This was truly an example of the kind of Viral Marketing companies’ dream of!

Yet notice nothing in that last paragraph talks about the connection with the campaign, the belief in the goal, sharing the message of the campaign over the free gift, or any positive remarks about the non-profit’s effort?

With learning that submissions were still flooding in, we closed down the submission request box. I sent emails to the Freebie Sites letting them know what the intention of the campaign was and how we hoped they update their info. Some did and thanked us. Some ignored us. I sent a few emails to those who submitted letting them know what happened. Some did and thanked us. Some got frustrated and said that they did what the website said and they wanted their “Free Gift” anyway. Some ignored us.

The moral of the story, kids.
This outcome was not what they expected, or intended, when they created their marketing campaign. They just wanted to add a little value for being a part of it. Those online saw the value not in supporting the campaign, but just filling out whatever they needed to get the free item they wanted.

Rather than give a long, lengthy explanation, here are the top five things the non-profit quickly learned:

  1. Be proactive on learning the reason once you find a negative reaction to your campaign.a. You could have unintentionally created it. If you sit back and blame the people doing the very thing you asked them to, but for a different reason than you intended…you get nowhere.
  2. Accept the mistake, learn from it, and work with it instead of running away from it.a. It’s safe to say, that on the next campaign this will be something that will be brought up and avoided.
  3. Don’t give into our initial fear.a. Fear can cause you to assume your first reaction is the best one. Sometimes that’s not the case. Imagine what would happen if they thought they were spammed instead of doing the research?
  4. Find out what worked, what didn’t, and, depending on your outcome, how you can either duplicate that later on or never let it happen again.Clearly the free gift had value to people. Is there something that they could leverage in this?
  5. When people ask for your free gift that does not mean they are interested in you.a. Free gifts are great. They little items, that shouldn’t break the bank, that if well done should spark conversation or curiosity. They should not be a crutch to get people interested in you or your company.

I say, give “Free Gift” away, but don’t let the value of the gift be greater than the message. There are some really big marketing lessons in this that came to light. What, life lessons, have you learned from you marketing experiences?

Until next time, stay wicked.

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