How Sleazy Is Too Sleazy In Acquiring Customers: The Three Product Qualities That Matter

by Michael Schrader

We’ve all seen the methods:
  • Spam emails
  • Free trials that automatically convert into paid subscriptions
  • Installation of products or spyware without sufficient warning
  • Overhyping services and under-delivering once installed/purchased
  • Relentless posts to your Facebook profile

It’s obvious that some companies believe that these are acceptable, and may even be in users’ best interests. So when is this behavior acceptable and when will customers push back? While we don’t have clear data, we can infer from recent examples that there are four strong variables that decide just how much sleazy behavior customers will put up with:
1) How much true value does your product or service offer? Facebook has shown the world that a valuable platform can get away with extremes in questionable practices. Examples such as Beacon, which tracked user’s online purchases and posted the updates online, have drawn uproar from users, yet Facebook continues to grow, with more than 845 million users.
2) Are you seen as an exclusive community? Gilt Group has shown the power of exclusivity. By creating a product with a high end, exclusive feel, Gilt avoided the typical stereotypes that accompany the “Invite Your Friends” sales pitch. People who had been admitted to the site felt as though they were doing a favor for their friends by sending an invite.
3) Do you have strong positive brand recognition? Google has launched a ton of different products over the years, ranging from home runs like Gmail to far less successful products like Wave. The one constant has been Google’s ability to maintain a strong overall brand, which makes invitations to these services exciting to receive.
4) Will people be excited to invite their friends? Zynga tested many Facebook users’ patience with their relentless stream of Farmville invitations. The irony was that nearly all of these posts were initiated by actual users playing the games. Many people thought that their friends would actually want to help them feed their fake sheep, hence they supported the posts.
Let’s walk through each of these insights and see how it can be utilized to help you grow your startup.
1) Value: While value can be tricky to gauge, smoke tests can be a quick and easy method to evaluate your customers’ perception of value. If you don’t like the results, find a way to add more value.
2) Exclusivity: Past examples such as Gilt, Gmail, Facebook, etc. show that a feeling of exclusivity is possible with a variety of online enterprises. The tradeoff is limiting early signups by excluding those that don’t fit your target profile. You will have to determine if you’re the benefits of exclusivity outweigh the potentially slower initial growth.
3) Brand: Most startups can’t count on brand until later. Find another way.
4) Excitement to Invite: This can typically be created by adding a gaming aspect to your site or creating a model that revolves around social activities such as sports or parties.
So if you want to grow through slimy methods, make sure your product has the right elements to overcome the negative backlash that may result.

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