Damn You, Dandelions

May 02, 2019


As a proud homeowner and DIY landscaper, I pride myself in having a good-looking yard. I fertilize with compost, I meticulously mow and edge, and I’ve spent the last seven years watering my backyard by hand. My yard is big and green and fun for my kids to play on and that’s the way I like it.

Now, despite my best efforts, there are plenty of weeds in my yard—each of them unwelcome. And even though they annoy me with their very presence, almost all of them are at least tolerable. Ridding my yard of every single weed seems like an infinitely futile endeavor, so as long as they’re doing their thing on the downlow, they get a pass. After all, once my yard is freshly mowed, it’s actually hard to tell the weeds and grass apart.

But there’s a resistance in my yard. A mustard stain on the otherwise crisp, white shirt of spring. I speak of course of the dreaded dandelion. Instead of laying low like a patch of crab grass, or blending in like a clump of clovers, the dandelion loudly flaunts its bright yellow flowers then has the audacity to taunt me with their arsenal of spawns in a deceivingly playful little puff of white. Have I sternly warned my kids never to pick a dandelion and blow the puff ball in the yard—a seemingly fun and innocent rite of passage for children in springtime? Dear reader, I have. But before you call me crazy, did you know that a single puff can be packed with over 150 seeds, or that one “innocent” dandelion plant can produce over 2,000 seeds in its lifetime?!? Terrifying. Letting dandelions be only leads to, you guessed it, more dandelions.

This nonstop battle got me thinking about the digital weeds that invade my inbox on a daily basis. Last week, for example, I bought a shirt for my nephew’s sixth birthday party. The party theme is camo / Star Wars, naturally, so after a few seconds on the web, I had purchased a camo Star Wars shirt to wear to the party from a novelty t-shirt retailer I remember from the 90’s that is surprisingly still a place that sells things. The next day, I got a marketing email about said retailer’s latest FLASH SALE. This was my first, and hopefully, last purchase from them so I did not appreciate seeing it in my inbox. It is a digital weed, no doubt, but which kind of digital weed will it grow into? Is it passive like the clover, laying low in my inbox, only popping up once in a while and largely avoiding my contempt? Or is it arrogantly aggressive like the dandelion? Proudly proclaiming its unwelcomed presence, hitting my inbox daily to the point that I am compelled to take action and seek out an “unsubscribe” option.

We’ve previously worked with companies who demonstrated very dandelion-esque views on email marketing before we showed up. Essentially, their philosophy seemed to be that sending out emails was cheap and easy, so why not do it? Every. Single. Day. Just blow those seed puffs into the wind and see what happens. I don’t want to read an email from my best friend every single day, let alone from some random store I bought a camo Star Wars shirt from. The truth is that most customers aren’t interested in being checked in on 365 days a year, most brands do not have something vitally important to send to their mailing lists every single day, and customers have a finite amount of patience and brand affinity that can be easily eroded.

Aggressive tactics like theses have stigmatized email marketing in particular, but the digital weed dispersion doesn’t stop there. Mobile app notifications and digital advertising can also be spawned by one single interaction. And if those various marketing channels don’t talk to each other very much, it can actually end up feeling a little like being stalked.

Don’t get me wrong—digital marketing is not all bad. I definitely have received marketing emails that I’ve appreciated and even acted on. And the secret to their success was being timely, relevant, and having a very non-dandelion (i.e. subtle) presence in my inbox. If you want your company to be received in the same way, consider the following tips:

  • Scale back the sheer volume of emails you send—at the very least to those customers who clearly haven’t been responding to them.
  • Treat customers like you would a good friend—someone you likely wouldn’t email daily, or even weekly.
  • Be strategic about your cadence. Thoughtful reminders around holidays or rare and notable sales can be helpful if they aren’t crowded by fifteen other emails you’ve sent that month.
  • Personalize whenever possible, and this goes far beyond making sure the recipient’s name is in the copy (I could give you a deeper dive on personalization, but my colleague, Chuck, has already done the heavy lifting).

So, all you marketers take notice. Every one of your customers has a digital lawn of sorts and believe me when I say that they all hate the dandelions of their inbox. Even though you may see your brand, product, or message as a beautiful, yellow flower that you simply can’t share frequently enough, chances are it’s actually just another damn dandelion.