You know you’re supposed to “monetize your platform” and “promote your products” online, but if this makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re not alone.
Sure, there are plenty of inauthentic “influencers” out there vying for people’s money, but your work is different. You believe in what you do. Earning money helps you to keep doing it.
But where do you draw the line between marketing and manipulation?
The Dark Art of Marketing
We’ve all seen bad marketing. We see it every day, several times a day. Maybe it’s the husband surprising his wife with a fancy car on Christmas morning. Or maybe it’s the skin care product presenting unrealistic images of the human body. Or maybe it’s the personal injury attorney promising they’ll stop at nothing to get you the money you deserve.
All of these marketing tropes—and countless others—have one thing in common: they are designed to show you something that could be. And on the surface, that seems fine, but in reality, what these tactics really say is, “who you are and what you have is not enough.” They are rooted in deficiency. These tactics are manipulative.
Marketing Is a Contract
For the California Milk Processor Board, the problem was simple: dairy farmers need people to buy more milk. For years, milk was marketed with shots of people exercising and playing sports under the tagline, “Milk: It Does a Body Good.” The campaign had run its course, and it was time for a change. The board turned to the San Francisco-based ad agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners for help.
Quickly, partners Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein pointed out that the old campaign was inherently dishonest. When you go for a run or play an intense game of basketball, do you ever reach for a glass of milk? Of course not! Instead, the team realized that you really only think about needing milk when you’re out of it. With this insight in mind, Goodby penned two simple words: “Got Milk?” The campaign kicked off with a hysterical commercial, directed by Michael Bay, that comically illustrated the plight of the milk-less. And the rest was history.
The “Got Milk?” campaign remains one of the most famous and successful ad campaigns in history. It also has an important lesson to teach us about how we marketing our own products. Many people actually enjoy marketing—if there’s something positive in it for them.
Goodby explains that, “People don’t mind being sold to if they understand why it’s happening and they enjoy the process.”
Marketing is a contract. If you provide a product or service that benefits your audience, they won’t mind if you sell it to them. And if you can make the process enjoyable, all the better!
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Marketing Doesn’t Have to Be Maddening
The #1 reason people like you are uncomfortable with marketing is because they are afraid of being accused of some kind of manipulation.
When we talk about launches and funnels you may wonder, “Why can’t I just freely offer products alongside my content, available to visitors without launches or other promotions?”
First of all, it simply doesn’t work. It can be useful to offer some small products or services for sale on an ongoing basis, but not as a primary revenue driver. At best, a few sales per week may trickle in.
If evil marketing is manipulation, good marketing is persuasion.
The difference is a matter of motivation, where manipulation is rooted in deception and trickery, and persuasion is rooted in solving a problem for your audience. How hard would you try to persuade a distracted runner from falling into a hole?
That’s good marketing, the more powerful the better if you’re helping people avoid pitfalls and improve their well-being in some way. If your platform is designed to do that, how can you not persuade people to take action?
Want to avoid the manipulation trap? Here are three ways to think about your audience and this yourself:
- Problem. Define the pitfalls your audience needs to watch out for.
- Solution. Articulate the pain of falling in, and the benefit of staying out.
- Followthrough. Keep this front-and-center during any marketing campaign and make sure you deliver.
If you are making your audience’s life better or easier, even in some small way, they won’t mind if you ask them for the sale. Just remember, you can manipulate or you can persuade people to move in the direction of their own benefit. The choice is clear.