Today I received this e-mail from the Ark-Group:
Dear Anton,
As a valued Ark Group and Knowledge Management magazine contact, if you take a subscription to Knowledge Management before 5pm tomorrow (25 March 2004) you also receive a free USB, MP3 player and voice recorder worth over �100.
Knowledge Management magazine is the essential magazine for the knowledge-management professional, featuring: case studies, news, reviews, opinion, country focus, profiles and events listings.
In this months issue:
– Is your KM initiative customer focused? Arno Boersma asks why KM has yet to make an impact on the marketing function and offers formula that can bring the disciplines together
– How connected are your internal functions? We highlight the often neglected relationships between knowledge management, internal communications and human resources and examine the value joined-up working practices can bring
– Failing to understand the value of innovation and creative ideas will result in the decline and ultimate death of any company, says Laurence Prusak. We profile the knowledge-management pioneer and idea practitioner
– When Ernst & Young�s knowledge-management team was formed in 1996 it envisaged working itself out of a job within five to ten years. Tina Mason outlines their journey so far and explains why a knowledge manager�s work is never done
To get your hands on all this vital information you need to subscribe to Knowledge Management magazine. A subscription costs �345 for 10 issues over the year including full online access to, and subscribe by 5pm Thursday (25 March 2004) and you will receive a free USB pen drive with MP3 player and voice recorder.*
Reply to this e-mail with code KM-SE6 in the subject line and we will establish a regular subscription for you as well as provide you with a unique password to access these articles and our full archive online.
Kind regards,
Adam Scrimshire
Marketing Manager
* The free gift will be despatched once we have received confirmation of your subscription in the form of full payment.

To which I replied with:
Dear Adam,
I think offering a MP3 player ‘worth over 100GBP’ to sell subscriptions to KM Magazine does more damage to your promotional campaign than help it.
Questions come to mind like:
Why do they have to convince me to subscribing by appealing to my greed in stead of pointing to the value of their magazine?
Why don’t they give their loyal customers a treat in stead of bribing potential ones? As a subscriber I’d feel cheated.
Will I be overpaying for the magazine, as they seem to be able to fork out ‘over 100GBP’ and still make money?
Why not just give me an introductory subscription for a reduced price?
Why don’t they stop offering me their magazine, even though I indicated repeatedly I wasn’t interested in the past?
Knowledge Management is all about realizing the value that is contained in relations between human beings. Leveraging that value is what makes organizations work and create a profit. Promotional campaigns like these do nothing to establish new and real relationships between people, in this case you and me, and so do not help at all to leverage any value such a relationship between us might contain. In fact, these campaigns destroy value as they make perfectly clear that, even though you open your message with ‘dear Anton’ you’re in no way interested in establishing a real connection, only in pushing your publication and thus increase revenue. Otherwise you would not have resorted to cheap tricks (well, cheap, 100GBP) to get me to subscribe.
In this way I’ve become a means to your end, and people should never be treated as mere means. Human relationships are always goals in themselves. As it stands I find your ‘offer’ downright insulting. The campaign does exactly the opposite of what the people expressing their visions in the KM Magazine, which you are aiming to let me subscribe to, would tell you on how to run your business. Content and packaging are thus diametrically opposed to eachother.
I have had very pleasant phone conversations with colleagues of yours in the last few years, and ocassionally I visit events organized by the Ark Group. And even though I think those events also could be way better (see this post), I will continue to do so in the future, as they do provide real value to me (in stead of a 100GBP’s worth of USB devices). In no way am I saying that the Ark Group should not aim to make money. I am saying that you will make money if you succeed in brokering and building human relationships. You will be rewarded if you really aim to provide value first. The causality is not the other way around, where you aim to be rewarded, and in order to achieve that try to provide something labeled as having value.
Best regards,
Ton Zijlstra

In case you’re wondering, the title refers to this post, about a company presenting at the Ark Group’s KM in Europe conference last year.
[Addendum] And I hadn’t yet fully appreciated the enormous irony in the Ark Group’s message when their mail says that in this months issue “Arno Boersma asks why KM has yet to make an impact on the marketing function and offers formula that can bring the disciplines together” 😀

4 reactions on “KM is Not Like Selling Soap

  1. Ton: I couldn’t agree more. This letter is typical of so many marketing “promotions”. Well done for spelling out your objections; I will be fascinated to hear any response you get.

  2. There is another twist: in KM initiatives, how do we get people to share? And there the same trick is used to pull them in. Years ago, in my company, once you registered to the KM site, you received a mico-Leatherman tool. There are prizes and quizes and points and salary bonus systems for “contributing knowledge”. And while this may help tojump start the initiative, it kind of perverts the perceived value: if taken away, the whole thing dies, because people were attracted that do not see the intrinsic value, but the extra, artificial bonus.
    This does not mean that I am against bonus systems. But if so, then really so. There is a great apporach/site/company linking knowledge disclosure and selfish greed: Don’t know if the company still exists, though.

  3. I only wish more customers ( or potential customers ) would react like Ton did! Some change that would bring! Economy would spin twice the speed it does now! But then…selling to new customers means that you’ll have to manage the lifecycle of the existing…to gain more new! And how many companies do manage those processes ?

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