Can We Please Tell the Truth in Our Marketing Communications?

Truth or Lie v1This post was inspired by a negative marketing event. I received a personalized letter in an official-looking envelope from a company called: ABC Shareholder Services (real name not used to protect the guilty). The letter claimed that since I was a holder of shares in a certain mutual fund, they needed to speak with me about a “very important matter.”  The letter claimed that this was not a solicitation and not a scam, but they urgently needed to speak with me about my account.

Perhaps I am an optimist by nature; I made the call. The shareholder advisor on the other end told me how important my proxy vote was to the upcoming shareholder meeting and asked me to pledge my vote on the spot.  When I answered that I would have preferred to have been informed in the letter that the call was about a proxy vote, the rep stated that the matter was indeed important, and anyway, the “letter did get you to call us, didn’t it?”

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He actually had a point. If the letter was designed to mask its intended purpose and to compel me to make the call, then it accomplished its objective. But if the experience was designed to make me give my proxy vote or ever trust the mutual fund again, it was counterproductive.  As I told the rep, when you are dealing with even semi-intelligent prospects, the subterfuge (real or perceived) works exactly one time. You get the prospect to take action, but you train him or her to be wary and disbelieve you. And if they rightfully disbelieve you when you trick them, they also disbelieve you when you tell the truth – we all learned about this when our parents read us the fable about the boy who cried wolf.

Here are the most common types of subterfuge marketing offers:

  1. Claiming the communication is urgent.  Remember that what is urgent to the seller (getting the order) may not be urgent to the buyer.
  2. Claiming that something is time sensitive.  My favorite examples are radio commercials that state, “Only available to those that call within the next 30 minutes,” even though the same commercial runs for months.
  3. Claiming that the offer is personal. We all get those emails that claim, “This offer is reserved only for my closest subscribers/members/friends.” Yet, you have no doubt that you are one of several hundred thousand of the sender’s “friends.”
  4. Claiming the offer is “official business.”  A large number of direct mailers are practicing this subterfuge by putting text on the outside of the envelope that shouts something like: “To be opened only by addressee — Fines for interfering with delivery of this mailing”. The implication is that the correspondence is from a government agency, when in fact it is usually selling something like an extended car warranty.
  5. Claiming that the product or service is free. More often than not, these so-called free offers are just bait for something that will cost you money.

These types of marketing communications techniques are the lazy marketer’s way of avoiding the painstaking work required to craft offers that are both truthful and effective. It’s like the comedian who compensates for a lack of talent by throwing as many curse words as possible into the routine. Misleading marketing offers insult both the intelligence of the prospect and the professionalism of the marketer. You may get a few extra sales in the short-term, but it will have dire consequences in the long term.

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  • Tim Randall August 5, 2014   Reply →

    Thank you! Finally someone addresses a far too common problem surrounding marketing communications. Chris, you nailed it in the comments made on marketing offers and techniques. Those type offers always leave a bad taste and I agree with putting honesty and integrity back into marketing campaigns!

  • Patty Wittnebert Tomsky August 8, 2014   Reply →

    Very lazy marketers! I love finding the “sweet spot” — truthful, effective, impactful and really valuable offers — and doing business with these companies again and again. A famous shoe source is one (emails with real coupons) and my book club is another (I get offers that exponentially up the value of my membership). Good blog, Chris. 🙂

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