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Your Notifications and Emails are Too Pushy

Make good content and quit chasing your customer around.

A few weeks ago, Nancy Pelosi emailed me eight times.

push notifications email
*opens email inbox* *promptly closes email inbox*

It started out innocently enough: Can you donate? I’m happy to throw down a chunk of change for a thoughtful, well-timed campaign. (Show me cute rescue puppy pics and take my money!) But as a vague political deadline loomed nearer, Nancy’s emails grew downright aggressive.

push notify email annoying

It didn’t help that I hadn’t deliberately signed up for her email list. *Sighs in GDPR.*

After that, it was one satisfying click to the “unsubscribe” button and another thud as I dropped the emails in my trash bin. 

In the past few years, brands have found high appeal in badgering users endlessly in the name of marketing strategy. This goes for ads, emails, cold calls, and app push notifications. Multi-channel is the name of the game as many companies scramble to be everywhere at once. It’s turned into a steady stream of nothingness, as we more acutely tune our skills of tuning out. HubSpot even has a name for it: graymail. Yuck.

Variations of the below “best practices” have been floating around marketing listicles for years now:

  • “Reach the right customer, and the right place, at the right time.”
  • “It takes 6 to 8 touches to generate a viable lead.” (source)
  • “Companies with more digital capabilities across channels are able to convert sales at a rate 2.5 times greater than those with fewer touchpoints.” (source)
purchase funnel digital touchpoints

First off, what is the right place at the right time? It must mean running into Amy Poehler on her coffee break. Because if not, isn’t that just philosophical nonsense? 

Second, what happens in that upper-right echelon of the above graph, at the point where everyone just decides you’re too pervasive and unsubscribes?

In the undercurrent of the marketing world, there’s a group of content makers waking up and existentially whispering: This is too much content, and it’s not effective anymore. Fortunately for consumers, they’re right. 

A “good” conversion rate is somewhere between 2–5%, and that’s just converting website visitors into marketing leads in the first place. The rest of the funnel is even more dire. BDR and sales teams have been finding out that leads generated from gimmicky marketing are only good for one thing: burning cash quickly.

We live in a world with many options. Are you offering too many baseless touch points? If so, you may be tuned out for savvier competitors. Consumers want less hand-waving and more substance. Even being helpfully annoying is still annoying (looking at you, inbound marketing methodology). The best users or customers are often the most difficult to trace back to a marketing campaign. They’re the ones who know your brand from word of mouth or great content, and come to you for a good product or service. 

Case study: Duolingo and diminishing returns

Duolingo is one brand that jumped off a cliff past the sign that said “point of diminishing returns ahead.” When you sign up for the language-learning app, you get friendly daily reminders to continue your practice. But skip a lesson or two because, you know, life, and the reminders get much less friendly.

Duolingo has turned passive aggressiveness into a marketing scheme, and people are not liking it. The infamous approach even spawned a subreddit called r/duolingomemes with over 18,000 subscribers.

Duolingo push notifications app

Sure, it’s funny. But isn’t it better to earn brand fans for being inspiring or useful — not creepy? I uninstalled Duolingo as soon as the pushes and emails turned too bold. Even though I’m hoping to learn some German this year, I’ll hire an IRL teacher who won’t guilt-trip me with the same intensity as this menacing cartoon owl did.

The point is, overboard multichannel is 1) creepy, 2) expensive, and 3) ineffective. 

Stop gamifying customer acquisition

Too many companies are overly concerned with gamifying their entire marketing funnel — i.e. “Which color Twitter graphic and hashtag combo resulted in the most MQLs, then SQLs that eventually converted into the highest MRR deals?” It’s jargony and overly complicated, and end-to-end attribution is a beast too big to ever conquer effectively for a long sales cycle. 

I’ve worked in enough marketing environments to know that people think strategy today is all about chasing the user around cleverly and shouting “Boo! Here’s my brand again!” until they finally break down and buy the thing. The expectation is to use customer data and fancy CRMs to be more omnipresent than even God or Santa Claus.

But what if we’re all just humans who don’t want to be badgered? What if the answer is ‘don’t worry about where you offer your thing, just offer a good thing?’

This is a bitter pill to swallow if you’re raised on a steady diet of HubSpot blog posts. But as someone who has helped generate thousands of leads for dozens of companies and gamified it all to the point of a science, I’ve learned a harsh truth: Most of these newly-mined leads drop off at the point at which they realize you’re no longer treating them like a human. Humans want to work with and buy from other humans, not automated marketing machines.

Viral content is b*******

Virality goes hand-in-hand with multi-channel. “How can I get my content to go viral?” asks every entrepreneur hiring a blogger on Fiverr for the first time. But viral is not the goal of a content strategy. It’s just a faster way to put bad content in front of a lot of people. Here’s the chart of success for virality:

viral content

Much better: Develop a content strategy that people come back to because they genuinely enjoy it. Good content has a long-lasting impact and a stable shelf life. You see returns on good content for years, often without a ton of advertising spend, because it has more organic appeal than Whole Foods.

The right products and services sell themselves. And good content gets the attention it deserves, especially if it reflects a company’s culture and values. Of course, you don’t want your entire website indexed as “nofollow” or buried under fifty pages of Google SERPs. But you also don’t want to smack an audience over the head with your message until they seek the solace of the spam button. Therein lies the balance that digital marketers should be trying harder to strike.

It’s why I love working at Postlight: We make content and cool Labs projects because we like to, and it’s as much a part of our business as the platforms we ship. I asked about KPIs in my first week, and I was kindly laughed out of the room and told to continue writing interesting things, thank you very much. We try to make things that hold value outside of a KPI report: that people chat about in an elevator, tweet out with commentary, and share in the Slack general channel. So far, they do.

Don’t be the hot dog peddler

The multichannel “best practice” has reduced brands to a digital version of the peddler hollering “Get your hot doooooogs!” at the baseball game. Sometimes someone will want that hot dog. More than likely, they’ll go out and find that hot dog anyway. But if you’re vegetarian or not hungry and the hot dog peddler starts chasing you around the stadium with meat byproduct in both hands, it’s going to get ugly. Don’t be the hot dog peddler. Be a human. Sell good things, then let those things sell themselves. You just be yourself. Your users, customers, and internet culture at large will thank you.

Postlight creates content and products by and for humans, with user testing, competitor research, and our own sprint system that we invented. Get in touch with us at

Kayli Kunkel (Twitter @kaylikunks) is marketing director at Postlight, and previously ran marketing strategies for SaaS companies and global brands. She is no longer seen banging her head against her keyboard trying to qualify MQLs at scale.