If someone in the grocery store were to suddenly shout "Webmaster!" across the dairy aisle, I would whip around so quickly my head would disengage. That is because my name is "Webmaster." But I go by many names. I am also called "Info," "Homes," and occasionally, "Hey there."

"Hey there. Hope you are doing well. In these times of recession, SEO is one of the most economical and targeted way (sic) of marketing," read the e-mail. Good point. Then why are you wasting time in my inbox? Get out there and optimize!

This is a classic case of bad deployment of otherwise good technology. E-marketing of the mass variety, once heralded as the cutting-edge of getting the message out, is fast becoming a sloppy, flawed business delivery system.

I was having lunch with a friend recently, a friend who happens to run a local nonprofit organization, and he was marveling at a new marketing opportunity he had just learned about.

"Do you know there are companies who will sell you e-mail lists? For a few hundred dollars, they will give you thousands of addresses. It’s so much cheaper than postage!" Yes, I know. They call it "spam."

Now, I consider myself fairly progressive as relics are concerned. But sometimes I am forced to admit that I just don’t get it. I don’t get how someone in charge of making important marketing decisions thinks spamvertising is a good idea unless they just woke up to find they slept through a decade.

My inbox is an extension of my office. It is a place in which I do business and meet with colleagues and clients, and I am growing increasingly resentful of strangers barging in uninvited. Spam is the virtual equivalent of breaking and entering, and it is sucking the life out of my productivity.

"Dear Info," the message began. "I have been reading your blog and am very impressed with your content. I just wanted to touch base with you about a great new tool!"

Impressed? I felt so very special, special that is until I realized that my new pen pal was probably no less impressed with the several thousand other blogs he had expressed his admiration for this particular day. I was being courted by some bot-crawly thing that had latched onto my "info@" e-mail address. …CONTINUED

I use many e-mail addresses. It helps me to know the genesis of our various inquiries and to direct our marketing dollars wisely. For instance, I may be "Info" to you on my blog, but at Zillow I go by "Homes." Occasionally, I am even "Mr. Family Trust," but only if you believe the county tax records.

Only two people call me by my legal name of "Kristi": my grandmother and the state Department of Real Estate. But, I have a hunch that my grandmother is not writing this morning looking for back links, so it must be more spam.

Sadly, I have become too conditioned to these "Kristi" messages being of the unwanted variety, so If Grandmother ever does decide to check in with me electronically, she will find herself carrying on a conversation with the last 27 automatically generated seminar announcements in my junk folder.

If you are going to pop in pretending to know me, at least put a little more effort into it. But then, I suppose that eliminates the appeal. It takes time and energy to get personal. It’s a numbers game after all and, thanks to the Internet, we can get personal on a global scale. And thanks to technology, we can automate our personal interactions.

This drip-marketing deluge gives me pause, not so much because my inbox has become a steaming landfill of commercial announcements, but because I see us on a path to e-burnout. Where I used to feel compelled to read each message and respond in some fashion to those who at least feigned a personal interest in my business or intense admiration for the shear genius of my blog content, I have since developed a trigger-happy posture.

I have become cynical. Feeling increasingly victimized, I now delete first and ask questions later. I have got to believe that my own clients and potential clients are no different.

If there were an award for Lamest Spam, the one I received three weeks ago (I have been saving it for a special occasion) would take the trophy.

"Hi %Name%," it began. "How do you get REO listings in %City% from Asset Managers nationwide? (Our data) has over %REOCount% nationwide REO Administrator Offices which handle foreclosures in %State%."

Oopsy. Somebody skipped a step in the old mail-merge process.

Crashing an inbox party is pushy. So much has been written about how consumers today want to control the conversation, yet we continue bop them on their collective head with messages they haven’t asked to hear.

We, ourselves victims, go about victimizing in the name of being technologically progressive. Whether in the form of unwanted e-mail advertisements, mandatory registration on our Web sites, or even the automated feedback requests routinely hurled between the inboxes of agents, we are ignoring the Golden Rule.

One could make the argument that the open house guest register falls into this category. Sure, we may strike pay dirt on occasion, but in-your-face marketing is fishing on private property any way you cut it. It is insensitive, it is short-sighted and it comes with significant long-term costs.

Maybe it’s time we reinserted some old ideas into the new business model. Our customers have become cynics where our value is concerned, and I don’t blame them. We have become so mesmerized with the mass marketing opportunities offered by our online world that we have forgotten with whom we are trying to connect.

If we took a minute to get to know them, we would know that they are a lot like us. As an agent, I assure you that one incoming call from a customer where they get my name right, where the conversation is intentional, direct and personal, is more valuable to me than 400 exchanges with unknowing "leads" who inadvertently wandered into my crosshairs.

Call me foolish. But, please, don’t call me "Info" anymore.

Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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