I was recently asked about deceptive marketing practices currently utilized by businesses and their ability to drive sales. What fires me up more than most things is the manipulative practice that marketing has become synonymous with. While I do believe that persuasion tactics (such as scarcity) are psychological triggers that do work (and can be used ethically), companies large and small have started to bend these principles and distort them into deceptive practices.
As a branding consultant, one of the services I provide is Empowerment Marketing strategy. Empowerment marketing flips traditional marketing on its head, and instead of sleazy sales tactics and small white lies to get ahead, we devise a strategy that is honest, authentic and has integrity.
Today I’ll be sharing the foundation for the Empowerment Marketing model, its viability as a financially successful strategy and ways you can start to incorporate its principles in your own branding.
The Six Most Common Persuasion Principles
1 | RECIPROCITY
The idea that by giving something of value for free will result in the customer returning the favor, usually through a larger follow-up purchase or loyalty. A classic example would be offering a free guide/PDF/downloadable anything in return for an email address. This is how most, if not all, newsletter building strategies operate.
2 | COMMITMENT / CONSISTENCY
It’s easier to stick with what you know than try something new. Anybody starting a new fitness routine or nutritional program knows this, so how do you succeed? By having your clients commit to small actions to start with or having them commit publicly. This is why getting your clients to check-in on Facebook or tweet their goals is a great loyalty building practice.
3 | SOCIAL PROOF
We tend to buy things that seem popular or are endorsed by people we trust. Peers, celebrities, best friends, family members…social proof in the form of written or word-of-mouth testimonials from people we identify with increases our chances of buying.
4 | LIKING
No, not exactly the thumbs up we’ve come to associate with the word liking, though it is similar. This has to do with our liking of someone in regards to how similar, physically attractive or the associations we have with them are. The more you perceive to have in common, the more likely you are to consider what they like as what you like.
5 | AUTHORITY
We believe and follow the people who look like they know what they are doing. It’s as simple as using your title, professional attire and accolades to express your authority in any industry.
6 | SCARCITY
Limited-time offers, exclusive offerings and limited spacing are great examples of this principle. Anything that is hard to come by makes us want it more, often driving up price at the same time. There are a lot of “LAST CHANCE” emails that use this principle, especially for entrepreneurs launching online programs.
The Use of Deceptive Practices
It might seem like a catchphrase but it’s far from it: ‘empowerment marketing’ is gaining ground in a world more obsessed with purchasing than ever before. Where traditional marketing has failed us is its sustainability and long term viability in an ever-changing and connected online environment. Long gone are the days you could simply place a full-page ad that pushed out your competitor on Main Street; today potential customers have the opportunity to see thousands of messages in a short amount of time, all specifically targeted to them through online platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.
The 1980s saw a particular boom in consumerism, where capitalism in America hit a high note. Cash flow meant sales and companies took advantage of greater discretionary income by amping up their marketing efforts. Deceptive marketing strategies, born from traditional persuasion tactics, evolved. Fast forward to the economic boom before 2008 and the addition of online consumerism saw a particular interest in online selling strategies that were anything but ethical.
Today you’ll see these same deceptive practices in startup and entrepreneur communities, especially online. Commonly employed are lines such as,
- “Cart closes in 24 hours!” with a follow-up email indicating there was a ‘mistake’ and they’ve extended the sale for an additional 12 hours
- “Only 5 spots remaining!” when in fact the program is far from sold out
- “Best-selling author” when perhaps their self-published Amazon book was #1 for only a few days
- A ‘free’ mini course on a particular subject but a required four or five figure ‘investment’ for the full program guaranteeing you a quadruple (or six figure) ROI in less than X weeks
- Asking mastermind friends to write testimonials for your website (when they haven’t actually gone through the work)
What’s most unfortunate about many of these deceptive practices is that while many of these small enterprises mean well but have minimal marketing budgets to begin with, they follow an unethical marketing model that sets them up for failure in the long-term.
The Three Pillars of the Empowerment Marketing Model
In order to work within the Empowerment Marketing Model, a brand needs to pledge allegiance to its three pillars: honesty, transparency and integrity. Though it might be tempting to slack off at times, success only comes from consistently returning to these three aspects in order to grow and drive revenue.
Honesty can be defined as fair, truthful, genuine, creditable, and honorable. Honesty is pretty straightforward: it’s being truthful in your words and deeds. The “fake it till you make it” syndrome is a great mental strategy to get you out of your comfort zone, but if you are saying you’re a NY Times Best-selling author and you’re not, that’s dishonest.
Transparency is synonymous with clarity. How many times have you felt confused by the terms, conditions, added fees and overall messaging by an ad campaign? Transparency allows your potential customer to make better, more empowered and informed, buying decisions. Because really, who wants a dupped customer?
In line with honesty, integrity is adhering to a moral code or principles. Selling with integrity is more than being honest and transparent; it’s the opportunity to stand up for what you believe in, do good and make a difference with your product or service.