Transparency vs. TMI: Know the Difference

Marketers are constantly reminded to be transparent. And I wholeheartedly agree. But there’s also a line you must remember not to cross as a marketer.

Princess Bride Transparency memeMarketers are constantly reminded to be transparent — see for yourself. Google the phrase “marketers need to be transparent” and you’ll see more than 600,000 results ranging from “Why Transparency Is The New Marketing” to “5 Brands That Employed Transparency in Marketing — and Won.”

And I wholeheartedly agree. But there’s also a line you must remember not to cross as a marketer. And that line is from transparency to TMI … too much information.

Late last week, my friend Rachel, who works for a New York nonprofit, sent me an email she received from a marketing services company. She thought the subject line was interesting, but once opened, found the message to be wordy, overly personal and meandering. She wanted my “professional” take on it.

I read through it, but said that without seeing other emails from this company, I couldn’t tell if that was just the company’s voice, or if somebody was allowed to send something without further, and necessary, review. So Rachel sent me a few more emails. And this email, with the subject line, “I could use your help” stopped me in my tracks.

Help email
Note: I’ve blurred out the From line and the Rachel’s email address.

The image above shows the first two-thirds of the email, which is enough for this purpose. The first two paragraphs are the most problematic:

I’m reaching out to you today to ask for your help. I’m going to be honest even though this is hard to say out loud – but we had two pretty big projects fall through at the last minute this month. Two projects that we had cleared our pipeline to handle, and even hired new staff to support. Unfortunately, those clients had other concerns that they needed to attend – for completely understandable reasons, but that leaves us with a bunch of empty space right now that we need to fill with new work.

So we’re asking you to think of anyone you may know who might be interested in hiring us to help them get the marketing results they want.

Look, I get it. This kind of thing has happened to everyone. Projects fall through and it’s disappointing, frustrating and financially scary. No one wants business to slip through their fingers, especially if it seems to have happened despite your best efforts.

But you don’t email, seemingly, your entire subscriber base, asking for referrals. Because I seriously doubt the majority of this marketer’s email subscribers have done business with them previously, and it’s weird asking strangers for referrals.

I found this messaging tactic to be so strange that I emailed some of Target Marketing’s good friends for feedback (maybe I was missing something that was actually genius?).

Carolyn Goodman, one of our bloggers and president/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners, got back to me right away, and I found her take on the email to be very interesting.

Author: Melissa Ward

Melissa Ward is the managing editor for Target Marketing, and she has opinions! More importantly, she's a nerd for great copy and design, a disciple of authenticity, and really loves it when marketers get it right.

12 thoughts on “Transparency vs. TMI: Know the Difference”

  1. This email is probably more transparent than the writer intended. It says, “I’m desperate and not creative enough to find a way to solve my own problems. Help me!” It doesn’t make me want to recommend my friends to them because they seem incompetent. The only feeling this email elicits is pity. Yikes.

    1. I agree that the tack taken here is … off. I cringed when I read it, and it obviously stuck with me long enough to feel the need to write about it! Thanks for reading 🙂

        1. Simple: You’re my go-to resource when it comes to prospecting emails, and this attempt as “prospecting” needed your take on it!

  2. In moments of weakness, every copywriter has played with similar (well, maybe not too similar) copy strategies. The secret after you write something like that is to sleep on it, read it the next day and realize, “WTF was I thinking!” Then destroy the evidence.

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s better to spit it out, clear your mind, and then go back and write something that accomplishes what you need and want, without losing face with your subscribers/prospects.

      I’d be interested in seeing if this marketer had increased email unsubscribes following this particular message … and if so, did they learn anything from it?

  3. Thanks for the insights. As a fairly new self-employed freelancer (October 2014), I’m always looking for information to help me do my business the right way. Even I can peg the superficial and unprofessional spin on this approach.

    1. Hey Rhonda, I hope some of my sassy insights can continue to be of use to you as you continue with your freelancing! If you’re looking for a more serious — yet still fun — approach to copywriting, read through Some of Pat Friesen’s articles. She’s fantastic!

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