Dirty Marketing Tricks that Can be Done Right

If someone in line at your local coffee shop asks you what you do for a living, do you cringe before you say ‘content marketer?’ Or do you avoid the situation altogether by simply saying ‘content creator’ or ‘writer?’

No one should be embarrassed about being a content marketer. But why is it that including the word marketer or salesperson in your job description sometimes sounds like it may give a bad first impression?

The sad truth is, marketers and salespeople often get a bad rap because of some of the sneaky, dirty tricks many marketers use every day to manipulate people into buying something that they really didn’t want or couldn’t afford.

It’s happened to all of us, hasn’t it? You find a video online, you get an email, or you simply pass a salesperson in a department store, and before you know it you spent money you didn’t have on something you probably will never need. The marketers and salespeople behind that dirty trick pulled on your heartstrings, manipulated your emotions, and pulled you right into their very expensive trap.

When we remember how many marketers treat their potential customers, is it any wonder why some people view any kind of salesperson like a sweaty, sneaky used-car salesman wearing a bad toupee and a cheap suit?

As content marketers, we all owe it to our profession to combat that negative image by avoiding the same dirty tricks that might have worked on us in the past. Not only do those manipulative traps give salespeople of all kinds of bad rap, but they are also actually very bad for business.

Sure, many dirty tricks will improve your sales in the short-term. They will make you more money and improve your ROI. But that is only at first.

The truth is, most of those manipulative tricks conniving marketers use are only useful for the short-term. In the long run, most of those dirty tricks will usually end up backfiring and hurting your business over time.

In this article, we are going to consider three different dirty tricks marketers and salespeople love to use online, why those manipulative traps may work okay in the short-term, how each of them can backfire and end up hurting your business, and a better, more integral, strategy you can use instead that will pay off even bigger in the long term. 

Click Bait Headlines

We’ve all seen these kinds of headlines in our blog feeds, on social media, and on popular video sites. A click bait headline makes a huge and urgent promise. “You won’t believe how these CEOs are making billions!” “The weight loss secret your doctor doesn’t want you to know!” “Four small business tips you should be doing right now!”

Why it works dirty:

There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that click bait headlines work very well as dirty tricks. But why do they work so well?

These kinds of headlines are specially designed to pull on your emotions and make you feel a sense of discovery or urgency. (We’ll talk more about false urgency in the next subheading.) They make you feel like you will be missing out on something great if you don’t click on that headline right away.

Such headlines make a huge promise. The problem is, that promise almost always goes unfulfilled. Click bait headlines do generate an awful lot of clicks, but when you get to the article behind that headline, you quickly realize that the information either has nothing to do with what the headline promised or falls way short of providing the kind of information you would expect.

The result? You end up clicking off the page as quickly as you can, upset that you wasted those valuable seconds in your life.

So why do companies still use click bait headlines? Because they work. They do get more clicks. People that previously promised themselves to never fall into the trap of clicking on what is obviously click bait end up clicking on a similar headline the very next day, often hating themselves for it.

How it can backfire:

So if using click bait headlines really does get you more clicks, why is it a mad idea? Because it will only work for a short time. And, worse, once it stops working as well as it did at first, your brand could be forever tainted in the minds of thousands of potential customers.

Giving false promises in over sensationalized headlines is a lot like the story of the little boy who called wolf. Sure, the villagers believed the little boy at first, and they responded quickly. But eventually, when a real wolf did appear, that poor shepherd boy was left on his own. No one trusted him anymore.

In the same way, if your company website or brand develops the reputation of promising big and delivering little, people will stop clicking on your headlines when they run across them on social media or in their blog feeds. They simply won’t trust you anymore.

How to do it right:

The reason click bait headlines work so well is that they promise something big and exciting. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with making big and exciting promises in your headlines, as long as the article on the other side of the headline delivers at least as much excitement as was promised.

Next time you need to come up with the best possible headline for an article, or the best possible wording for a tweet, keep your integrity intact by making the headline exciting and engaging but also a perfect fit for the content it leads to. If the content is urgent, if it really is something customers would need to take advantage of right away, you can make the headline sound urgent.

Designing perfect headlines for your content is a valuable skill. Managing to do so without over sensationalizing is even more valuable. And it will improve your ROI consistently over time, keeping your company’s reputation and integrity intact.

False Scarcity (or Urgency)

False scarcity, or false urgency, is a dirty little marketing trick in which marketers and salespeople will claim the potential customers only have a certain number of days or minutes to buy a product at a specific price point. Or salespeople may say that there are only so many units available at a specific price.

Why it works dirty:

Why does false scarcity or urgency work so well even though it is definitely a deception? If a potential customer believes that he or she only has a number of minutes to make a decision as to whether they want to buy your product or service or not, they may be forced into making an impulse buy.

It is true that allowing a customer to have too much time to think isn’t always the best idea. Customers can talk themselves out of making a purchase just as often as they can talk themselves into making a purchase.

If someone visits a landing page or receives a sales email talking about a specific product your company offers, and if that person really is interested in the product, they may still hesitate to open their wallet right away. They may be mostly convinced that they want the product, but they may decide to bookmark the landing page or save the email and get themselves in time to think about it.

If that landing page or sales email tells the person that they only have a certain amount of time to make that decision, they are forced to make the decision rashly. Most marketers know from experience that when their customers are forced into a rash decision, they often choose to buy instead of not to buy, even if later they realize they didn’t really need or want the product or service they purchased.

The same idea works if you inform the person that there are only so many slots left for specific a consultation or service, or so many units left of a specific product. In that case, many people will feel a natural competitive impulse. They decide to buy right away because they don’t want someone else to rob them of that decision later.

How it can backfire:

Seeing how false scarcity, or false urgency, can backfire is as easy as turning into an early morning infomercial on your TV. So often, those infomercials claim that the viewer has a very short amount of time to phone in to receive a special deal, often the inclusion of an extra “gift” added to their purchase for free.

I can’t imagine anyone honestly believing that there is some computer out there keeping track of when these infomercials are broadcast and starting a series of countdown timers to dictate when someone can get the free gift or not. Obviously, the sense of urgency the infomercial tries to communicate to you is completely false. Unfortunately, much like those obviously fake laugh tracks on many sitcoms, the dirty trick often works even when everyone knows the trick is very dirty and very fake.

However, what kind of message are you communicating to your potential customers? Even if they, knowing that they are being manipulated, play along with the false scarcity and make an impulse purchase decision, wouldn’t to those same customers remember that their first encounter with your brand centered on a lie?

A brand that depends on false scarcity or urgency is basically sacrificing their integrity (Joel Comm) in the name of improving sales.

On top of that, what about all of those customers that made an impulse decision to purchase because they were tricked by the false scarcity? What happens when many of those customers later realize that they did not want or need your product or service? What happens when they feel used, duped, manipulated?

Obviously, using dirty tricks to get more sales will make you more money in the short term. But in the long term, you’re basically selling a good reputation with your customers, and a good reputation is something that will prove to be far more profitable in the long run.

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