Thursday, October 15, 2009

Marketer, can you respect yourself in the morning?

I've had an interesting week this week to say the least. Don't worry. I haven't had an affair as the title may suggest. I've just been thinking about self-respect and what compromises in ethics and morality marketers are willing to make for themselves and their clients.

Asked by a couple of friends to help them market their products, I've been introduced to an underbelly of marketing I had never really recognized in the past. I guess I've had the blessing to always market legitimate products to customers whom I respect appreciate. Have I just been blissfully ignorant and naive about other approaches to marketing? Perhaps. But now I'm a bit saddened.

To keep this blog entry short (OK, relatively short), I'm going to go straight to a list of practices that may lead to unsettled nights and waking up with regret and a loss of self-respect as a marketer in the morning. The list also serves a dual-purpose of showing you what to look for when identifying online scams, so you don't fall prey to their deceitful practices.

  1. There is no way to contact the company or the only means of communication excludes the possibility of talking to a live person. Real companies respect their customers and want to help them when challenges arise.

  2. You search for the product or brand and see it associated with the words "fraud" and "scam" repeatedly. Anyone who has a bad experience with a product or company may be vindictive and go overboard to hurt the company; however, thousands of hits in association with the word "fraud" or "scam" can't be a good sign.

  3. You've never heard anyone say anything good about the product or service beyond hype in marketing messages. This is related to my blog entry a couple weeks ago about delivering a "remarkable product." An absence of positive reviews is not necessarily an indictment, but it means you should be careful with your expectations.

  4. The product is marketed using questionable practices. If you see ubiquitous ads for a product everywhere but have never heard of the product again shows a bad ratio between marketing presence and satisfaction. the next few points outline some specific marketing practices to look for.

  5. You learn about the product through spam. Spam includes unsolicited email, unrelated message board postings, and "friends" who push affiliate links via social networks. Twitter has become notorious for social spam, but I've seen a positive trend with fewer spammers following me lately.

  6. The product is marketed heavily on Clickbank. I hate singling out an affiliate network here, but Clickbank is notorious for allowing scams to advertise through its network. It appears that everyone is in on the scam, including publishers, affiliates, and Clickbank itself. Does that make activity in Clickbank an "un-virtuous circle?" Maybe an "immoral circle?" It's definitely not vicious to anyone but the consumer.

  7. The product promises are too good to be true. I had to throw this one in here. There are many companies that continue to market the "promise" of their product rather than the reality of what the product may actually do for you. Outlandish claims and hyperbole are sure-fire indicators that an unscrupulous marketer is behind the message.

  8. The value exchange is unreasonable. Good products cost money. So does excellent information. But lots of scams are just over the line from overpriced products, including information that is freely available online repackaged as an e-book.

  9. Something free requires a credit card or cell phone number for delivery. The cell phone number signup scam is relatively new, an "innovation" related mobile apps and social media ads. Read the fine print on any "free" offer that requires you to provide a credit card number of cell phone number. With mobile phone delivery, you may be allowing them to sign you up for a monthly subscription that is billed to your cell phone number. Slimy!

  10. The company treats its customers with disrespect or contempt. While this is a fairly common practice in today's course society (I once heard the former CEO of jokingly refer to his customers as "cheap a** bast****" during a presentation), companies that run scams tend to antagonize and intimidate their customers rather than listening and helping them. They are harshest in their enforcement of refund and cancellation policies . . . until you threaten to report the company to the FTC or Better Business Bureau.

  11. The company cares more about revenue than satisfying the needs of the customer. I almost left this one out but had to include it on principle. It actually represents a conundrum. There is no ability to satisfy customers if a company can't make money, but a company has no "right" to be in business if it isn't serving the needs of customers. I still maintain that the best path to profitability is identifying a customer and then working passionately to serve the customer's needs. Any company that has a sole focus on revenue or "what customers can do for us" is looking at customers as a means to an end. Serving and hopefully delighting customers is how a company succeeds. A focus that is too heavy on revenue often leads companies to abandon their most valuable advocates while they "step over a dollar to pick up a dime."

A rule of thumb I have often used is answering the following question: "Am I afraid of my customers or do I embrace them?" There are lots of possible variations on this question, such as "How excited am I to tell people about my product and service?" The point is that any marketer who fears his customer is likely in a tough position because either the product or service he is marketing isn't delivering on its promise or it has been marketed in a deceptive manner.

So, when you are marketing a product or service, are you ensuring yourself a peaceful slumber or are you going to wake up in the morning wondering what on earth you were thinking the night before?

Marketing ethics fell through the floor right before the dot com bubble bursting, led by loyalty programs, lead brokers, and referral services. I hate to say it, but as an interactive marketer it's feeling a lot like it did about 10 years ago. Will we wake up and opt for self-respect or keep building a house of cards one compromise at a time?

1 comment:

  1. Jim, having worked for marketers in this industry for a number of years, there is one other thing I would add. Typically, products that are mostly touted as educational, informational, or have coaching associated with them fall into this category. While it may not be true for ALL products, these are the most notorious.


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