De Standaard Online: classic example of stupid marketing

Note: De Standaard has completely redesigned its website. Up to today I’ve never seen these pop-ups reappear. Problem solved so it seems. (Hannes, 11 / III / 2009)

Imagine you walk into your favorite bookstore. You love the selection of books they have here because you always find something interesting here. It tells you something about your world and about your community. The staff is well-trained and knows what their brand is all about.

Then things change. At first, you don’t notice anything. But just when you want to take a closer look at one of the books on the new arrivals table, a clerck walks up to you and ask you:

“What’s your name? Have you been here before?”

You’re a little bit surprised because you have been here before quite sometimes. But you’re a decent guy, so you answer the question because you think it might improve the customer-staff-relationship and in the end that might mean an extra discount or so.

But the moment you’ve answered the questions, the clerck walks of.

A few days later you’re back because your favourite author has just published a new book. You walk in, get a nod from some staff members behind the counter and then you head straight for the best-sellers section.

But hoho, wait a minute sir, before you take the book with you: “What’s your name? Have you been here before?”

That’s right, it’s that same clerck again.

You politely tell him to get lost, and off he goes.

Two minutes later, just when you think about thumbing through an issue of Fastcompany:

“What’s you’re name? Have you been here before?”

Now you’re annoyed and you walk of. And you have absolutely no intention of coming back.

So much for building a strong bond with your customers. So much for building a comunity around your brand.

This story might sound strange to you, but it actually happened to me lately.

Not in a bookstore, but when I was visiting my favourite online newspaper, called De Standaard.

Until a few months ago you could just ‘pop in’ and start reading the news. Some sections were limited to subscribers which was only fair since it was properly indicated.

But nowadays you’re interupted with the message that you should register yourself for no obvious reason. There’s no need to do so because you can just ignore the message, close the pop-up screen and continue reading.

Yet when you click through to some other pages and articles, all of a sudden, the screen is back again.

It really pisses me off.

Because that’s a classic example of old-school, old-fashioned intrusive marketing. It’s a classic example of rudness and a sense of manners.

In short: it’s stupid.

Why? Because it doesn’t serve no purpose but yours while it should also be clear that it serves your customers.

If you want to buy some of their time, if you want to bother them do so for a good reason, not because you simply can.

And when you interupt them, show some genuine interest, like: “Sir, if you like this article, then this is also worth a read.”

Furthermore, if people tell you they’re not interested, then they’re not interested. Period. If you’re still hoping to make a sale, then the only way to do so is to respect your customer or your prospect, which means: you understand and respect the fact that they are not interested.

You may argue that this doesn’t make De Standaard a bad online newspaper. Still, that’s not the point.

If your customers experience your brand as lousy, rude, uninterested, clumsy and stupid, it will keep them from visiting your website and reading your stuff at all.

Before you say: “shallow”, read the story of the bookstore again. Because if you think this is shallow, then you’ve become dangerously arrogant. Arrogance is not a quality of a leading brand, but rather one of an insecured one, estranged from the world, desperately trying to hold on to its own truth.

And that’s definitely not very reassuring for a newspaper.

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