My courtship with marketing picked up speed under the quasi-tutelage of Sanford Wallace. Sanford is the anti-Godin. He may not have invented spam, but he took it to a whole new level.
His original company accounted for the the bulk of unsolicited emails (~25 million/day) in the late 1990’s, and his company lost a multi-million dollar lawsuit to the leading ISP’s including Netscape and AOL (the day his company lost is an unofficial holiday celebrated in many internet geek circles).
Since losing his initial lawsuit and after getting kicked off over 30 ISP’s, Sanford did not stop. Rather, he adjusted to the new playing field of social media. In late 2007, Sanford wrestled control of millions of MySpace accounts, and recently lost a lawsuit to the tune of $230 million dollars for his activities. Facebook has also filed suit against the so-called “Spam King”.
Sanford is part evil genius, part jolly Saint Nick (every Wednesday he had me pick up 12 dozen roses for our lady customers). He is incredibly well liked by all who have worked with him, but for regulators, he is a huge thorn. In today’s era of black, white, and grey hats, I am pretty sure Sanford would say, “f*ck the hat.”
There is No Box
Although his tactics ignore all bounds, all respect for privacy and laws, he, nevertheless, continues to innovate, and all marketers can learn from his tenacity, creativity, and perseverance.
We all should be FX-style “there is no box” marketers. Marketing is not following a formula – allocating 50% of budgets to print advertising, 15% to email marketing, 10% to PPC, etc. If all you are doing is adjusting numbers in a budget, you are not a marketer. If your competitor is more innovative than you, you will fail.
Testing new strategies needs to be a core function of your company’s marketing team. Figure out if social media is right for your brand. Try guerilla marketing. Test higher prices and new phone systems. Find partners to split advertising costs (see Intel, HP in the new Microsoft campaigns, Xbox & Doritos).
Midget Dance Off
Working with Sanford, we had a Michael Jackson impersonator on our team. Nick was a 5′ tall white guy who had an incredible passion for dance. Every day he would come to the club, boom box in hand (not infrequently his one gloved hand), and work his ass off. All of our customers knew who he was and loved him (in the way Beaver fans love Benny).
One of the best nights I have ever had was watching Nick battle dance two midgets. The “fight” broke out spontaneously and neither side would relent. My business partner and I were mesmerized. Looking around the club, every set of eyes was transfixed on these three. If I had a video recorder on me at the time, I swear I could have retired on the sales of that scene alone.
When I recounted the midget dance off story to Sanford, he did not see it as a lost opportunity; he saw it as a chance to make money. He recommended hiring the two midgets to reenact the battle on the Strip. At the end of their dance off, the three could hand out flyers to whatever event our company was promoting that night.
Sanford thought outside the box.
What better way to get out of a sales rut than a midget dance off?
Continue to Innovate
All leading marketers and brands innovate, not just in the creation of the product itself but also in how they market the product.
You may not be able to launch a company that nearly brings down the most powerful ISP’s at the time, but surely you can throw together roses for your customers or a battle dance.
As for Sanford, he is still making waves and on to his next lawsuit. He recently set up a phone system for his events, where people call to get on a free guestlist. What is not disclosed is that if you call from a mobile phone, your number is automatically stored, and you are prone to future text blasts.
Over the last couple years, Sanford has built a phone list of nearly 40,000 mobile numbers. If Sanford wants to hold an event in Las Vegas, he is a $600 text blast away from notifying thousands of local individuals – individuals who have shown an interest in similar events in the past.
Could your hotel chain, car dealership, e-commerce clothing store follow suit and collect phone numbers from everyone who calls your reservations or customer service desk? Of course.
Is it incredibly shady and bound to ruin your brand? Definitely.
Is it an innovative marketing tactic, thinking outside the box? Absolutely.