Why Some Marketers Lie

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It is easy for many outside of the marketing profession (and some inside of it) to misunderstand what marketers do. For that reason, it is also easy to point the finger at marketers for scammy behavior by companies – both real and perceived.

As a marketer, it is sometimes difficult to defend the way that companies market themselves. Why? Because some of us lie.

Marketers lie for all sorts of different reasons. But those reasons all share something in common – that is that the lies are an effort to drive more sales. Some do it intentionally. Others do it mistakenly. Some don’t know they’re doing it until it gets pointed out to them.

Unintentional Lies

The unintentional lies are usually born out of some misunderstanding. The marketing team believes something about the company’s products that isn’t true. They then use this untruth in advertisements and promotional materials.

Just like anything else, ignorance is not a defense against false claims in advertising. They may be unintentional, but they’re still lies.

These types of lies are the result of siloed organizations that lack transparency and open communication. Marketers are not talking to sales teams and customer service reps and product developers. No one is telling them what is and is not a part of their offering.

To fix unintentional lies, marketing teams must invest in organizational development and training. Marketing should be fully integrated – from research and planning to development and sales.

Intentional Lies

The intentional lies are born out of fraud. These are lies that marketers are spreading in the marketplace that have no basis in reality. They are the kind of lies – like the VW diesel emissions scandal – that are intended to sell products to customers who would not otherwise purchase from you. The lie is what gets the sale.

Intentional lies come out of companies that don’t value honesty, that have failed to establish an ethical or moral culture. More often than not, these companies end up in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Giving Marketers a Bad Name

Whether marketers lie intentionally or unintentionally, they give other marketers a bad name. These bad actors are the reason why the public generally thinks of marketing as a disdainful profession. They don’t want to be advertised to, and they feel like all marketers are out to get them; that we have one hand in their wallets at all times.

To earn our reputations back, marketers must be willing to speak up. They must be willing to act in accordance with established ethical principles, and point out those companies or people (inside and outside of the organization) who fail to meet these standards.

If you have to lie about your product to sell it, you are marketing the wrong products.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Series Recap

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For the last twelve weeks, we’ve been running a weekly series on ethical questions that marketers and small business owners must be prepared to answer/handle/deal with in a variety of areas. Alas, that series has come to an end. We are really proud of the content it generated. So if you missed out on any of them, you can view them below:

  1. Customer Privacy Concerns
  2. Price Collusion
  3. Price Wars
  4. Spying on Competitors
  5. Pricing Consistency
  6. Targeting your Advertising
  7. Deceptive Ad Practices
  8. Selling with Sex
  9. Paying Influencers
  10. Spam
  11. Chatbots
  12. Native Advertising

Stay tuned next week, when we’ll introduce a brand new series.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 12

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Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Chatbots.

This week’s topic: Native Advertising

Native advertising comes in a variety of different forms – sponsored posts, paid articles, advertorials – but they all mean essentially the same thing. They are content that brands pay to place in places that readers are likely to engage with them.

For example, a company like Blue Apron might sponsor articles on websites dedicated to cooking or healthy eating. In exchange for payment, they might get to include details about the company or its offers, links back to their signup page, and more. Sometimes, they might even get full editorial control over the entire article.

Depending on where these kinds of articles are published, they might take a number of different forms. On some sites, they might look just like any other article. On others, they might get a different look and feel to signal to readers that this content was paid for.

Ethically, the issue is more on the publisher’s side than the advertiser’s. But at the end of the day, they both have some responsibility when it comes to user experience.

The question is this – as a reader, how important is it that I know this content was paid for, and by who? In the Blue Apron example, it might not seem to matter much. But what if it was an article on why people should use a specific credit card, and the bank that offers that card were the ones paying to have it published. You would think the reader is entitled to know that fact, otherwise they might think it an impartial piece of advice.

Native advertising certainly has a place in the larger marketing environment. But the key is that, as brands and publishers, we must be more transparent with our audience. If they don’t know that what they’re reading is content that only exists because someone paid for it, something is wrong.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 11

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Spam.

This week’s topic: Chatbots

Chatbots are a state-of-the-art technology that is allowing companies to automate customer interaction in a way that saves money and provides a better, more consistent user experience. The most sophisticated chatbot technology utilizes artificial intelligence to get smarter over time and provide quality service in an efficient manner.

The technology is still new, and will continue to improve exponentially. So now is the time for brands to begin to learn about how they might deploy chatbots to work for them.

Already, companies from Dominos to General Electric to Uber are using chatbots in some form or another. Whether they’re used for customer service, sales support, product demos, or ordering, marketing teams will use chatbots across a variety of industries and functions in the next decade.

The ethical question we need to ask ourselves is this – how important is it for consumers to know when they are talking to a bot vs. when they are talking to a human being? In the cases where someone receives high-quality service, accomplishes what they set out to, or gets the answers to their questions, this may not matter. In those cases, a bot is just as good as a human, maybe even better.

But in the cases where the interaction is negative, where the answers don’t come, or the customer is left unsatisfied, we have an issue. Was it the bot’s fault? Would a human have handled a situation better?

Since the technology is still so new, most customers today will assume that they are talking to a human being every time, until something or someone tells them otherwise. But in the near future, it may be commonplace to talk to bots, so much so that we assume we are talking to a bot unless proven otherwise.

If I, as a customer, think I am talking to a real person on the other end, is it the company’s responsibility to inform me when I’m not? I don’t know the answer to that, but I tend to err on the side of transparency. It is certainly something that industries and brands are going to have to decide before too much longer.

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.

Ethical Questions for Marketers – Part 10

Welcome to the newest installment of our weekly blog series, Ethical Questions for Marketers. Each week we plan to introduce a new topic and explore it in detail, preparing marketers for the day when they face such a problem at their organization.

Last week’s topic was Paying Influencers.

This week’s topic: Spam

When I talk to email marketers today, many of them think that spam is a thing of the past. I say good for them. But the reality is that there are still far too many organizations engaged in this years’ old practice. We just have to define it better.

Usually they’re thinking that spam is when you try to deceive or trick someone with email. They think of phishing attacks and Nigerian princes sending you offers with bad links in an attempt to steal your identity or your life savings.

This isn’t spam so much as a scam. And modern email providers like Gmail and Yahoo have gotten so good at filtering that stuff out that it’s hardly a problem anymore.

Today’s spam looks like a perfectly good email. It comes from a legitimate company with a legitimate offer. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that the subscriber never asked for it. They never signed up and they never gave you permission. It’s the email equivalent of a telemarketer’s cold call or a flyer you never asked for in your mailbox. Except that its more prolific than either of those forms of outreach because of the relative cost.

Email is nearly free. But that doesn’t make it okay. Spam can hurt your brand, and get you in trouble. For every 100 people you send an email to unannounced, you might get 1 additional sale. But you will anger 20-30 people to do it. (I’m making up numbers of course, but the reality is not far off)

What your company needs to decide is how far you are willing to go to find new customers. How far are you willing to bend the rules? How many people do you risk turning off of your brand forever?

Stay tuned next week for another installment of our Ethical Questions for Marketers series. If you have an ethical topic you’d like to see addressed, write us.