There is no greater insult in the Metaverse than to call someone a spammer. SPAM — even the word sounds ugly: "SSSS-PAM."

It conjures up visions of pink fleshy things coated in gelatin. Yet, spam afflicts us all in every useful communication channel.

When e-mail was the province of academics and computer geeks who knew Unix, e-mail spam was an unknown phenomenon. Within minutes of e-mail becoming a widespread communication tool, however, spammers entered the picture.

Same with Twitter, same with Facebook, same with whatever comes next. I suspect that the third smoke signal message ever sent was probably something about mail-order Viagra.

There is, however, a time for spam. Yes, that’s right. Let me say that one more time: There is a time for spam.

Jason Steele, vice president of Interactive Marketing at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, wrote a fascinating blog post about e-mail marketing.

Steele described an experience shopping for a new TV at, and he noted that he is an avid shopper on the site and has opted in to receive marketing messages via e-mail.

"On Monday morning I check my e-mail and there is a message from with the subject line, ‘Sony Two-Day Sale in Televisions and Video.’ I obviously opened the message, so Amazon NOW knows I am seriously interested in buying a TV," Steele wrote.

He soon after received a more specific e-mail message from Amazon about TVs, and he concludes that Amazon "is using browsing behavior to enable microtargeting in their e-mail marketing program. This is a concept that has been floating around for almost 10 years, but this is truly the first time I had seen it executed so flawlessly."

Listen to the excitement in his "voice." He’s talking about spam, ladies and gents. Of course, in his mind, it isn’t spam since he opted in to receive marketing e-mails from Amazon. But that’s actually a minor difference.

The real difference is that Steele was in the market for a new TV. Suddenly, all the e-mails that would have been irritating and annoying (and therefore "spam") became useful and interesting. His mindset converted an annoyance into admiration for how well Amazon was tracking him. Amazing, ain’t it?

Back in my fashion victim days, (OK, I’ll allow: "Whaddaya mean ‘back in’? As opposed to now?") I was a subscriber to GQ and Details. But I can’t really say I read the articles. (Sure, it’s exactly the opposite of what subscribers to Playboy say, isn’t it?) …CONTINUED

I bought those magazines for the ads. When I spoke to women friends who were carrying around massive tomes like Vogue, they also confirmed that the most interesting parts of those magazines were the ads showing the latest and greatest fashions in gorgeous photography. When you’re a fashion victim, you’re in the market for new clothing pretty much all the time. And for people like me back in the day (ahem), advertisements are truly welcome.

The same mechanic exists in real estate. I, and others, have killed thousands of innocent pixels decrying the practice of spamming listings onto social media channels. And yet, what I left out was that there is indeed a time for spamming — for advertising and even for listings. That time is when the customer is in the market for a new house.

Steele is right when he says that real estate e-mail marketing could be taken to the next level by incorporating traffic analysis software, geotargeting solutions, and e-mail marketing. (He also talks about expert systems that suggest alternatives, but that’s for another day.)

A service that would "automagically" deliver only the kinds of houses I was interested in, in neighborhoods that fit my criteria, based on my online habits, would be an incredible value as long as I was actually in the market. The challenge is knowing when the customer is and is not in the market.

Sophisticated traffic and behavioral analytics engines would help. But without that, there is a sure way to know. It’s called asking.

Simply ask, "Are you in the market for a new house?" and ask the consumer to provide a timeframe. Are we talking a year? Six months? Three months? Are we just looking, in the early stages of preliminary research?

To add a layer of sophistication to this, I suggest mapping out the customer’s transaction lifecycle from initiation of research through closing and beyond. You’re the real estate expert; you know which change in behavior accompanies which change in mental states. Chart them and write them down. It will be surprisingly helpful.

Click here to view a chart of what this might look like.

Your actual map is likely to be far better, far more insightful and far more useful. One of the insights such a map will give you is when to start spamming and when to stop spamming such that the customer will welcome such advertising instead of despising it.

Quoting scripture: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" … even a time to spam.

Robert Hahn is managing partner of 7DS Associates, a marketing, technology and strategy consultancy focusing on the real estate industry. He is also founder of The Notorious R.O.B. 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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