Annoying Marketing Tactics: The (Amazon) Review Assault

::I’m starting an informal series highlighting the most annoying online marketing tactics I come across. I have to vent somewhere, yes, but I also want to encourage any other artist, writer, or entrepreneur out there who refuses to sacrifice themselves on the altar of sketchy and annoying marketing in order to preserve a sense of self-respect, even if it means fewer sales and lower numbers.::

I started to embrace leaving online reviews, partially because Google turned me into a Local Guide, and I was highly motivated to get to level 4 before they ended the Google Drive free terabyte reward. I left reviews, posted photos of all the places I traveled to, and answered questions about restaurants like crazy. Because free terabyte.

And then I left a few reviews on Amazon.com, Yelp, et. al., just because I wanted to share some useful tips for others looking at the same type of purchase.

Then the marketing emails started coming.

“Hi. I saw you left a review on Book X. I recently wrote a similar book. Here is a link to a digital version. Please review it on Amazon.”

“I see you reviewed Product X on Amazon. I have many other products, completely unrelated mind you, that I’d like you to review. Ignore the broken English in this email and pretend this isn’t spam. In fact, I’m going to keep sending you requests to review every random thing under the sun, and even suggest you might be interested in buying them (forgoing Amazon’s own recommendation engine). Even better, buy them right from me.”

Essentially, when people see that you are reviewing online — not just Amazon, though that seems to be the key location—they see that you are:

  1. Willing to use and review a product.
  2. What kinds of books or products you read and use.

That makes you a perfect marketing target for them. That’s free marketing data out in the open.

I understand that Amazon’s system makes it highly desirable to get lots of reviews, particularly from the highly rated reviewers. There are endless blog posts written about how to get lots of Amazon reviews for your book and product (but especially for books) because the importance of reviews for ranking and sales on Amazon can’t be ignored. Heck, there’s even a book on Amazon that tells you how to get Amazon reviews.

I wrote a book myself (and halfheartedly put it on Amazon, a reluctance I’ll explain in some other blog post), and asked a few friends and customers to consider leaving a review (they didn’t, though one tried but was rejected because Amazon thought we were too closely associated) for those same reasons.

All of that to say: I understand that reviews are necessary for success on Amazon, particularly for authors.

But I still hate the marketing technique described here, because it falls into what I consider one of many subtle ways marketers continue to ruin the internet. The reviews I leave are for future customers or readers. They are not to make me a scrape-able data point for someone else to target their marketing at me. Reviews are the service I give to others around me, and not an open door for marketers.

Marketing purists would disagree. To them, everyone is a possible market and they are just one viral blog post away from finding yet another way to discover a marketing technique. There is no sanctified space that they cannot seep into; if the door is open or the data is out there to see, it’s permission to market. They might even find a way to consider it “permission marketing.” Once one marketer does it, writes about it, and encourages it, it becomes a part of the standard toolkit of How New Authors Can Find Success On Amazon. Or whatever.

I am waiting for the day when the local library sells patron’s book checkout history to raise funds. Until then, every review I leave is translated as “please market to me, and fill my inbox with requests I’m not at all interested in.”