12 Most Slimy Marketing Tactics to Avoid, No Matter Who Recommends Them

12 Most Slimy Marketing Tactics to Avoid, No Matter Who Recommends Them

You want to run an honest business, right? It’s easy to lose your moral compass when you hear prominent marketers talk up shady marketing tactics and see them hail the results they get through fakery, verbal sleight-of-hand or outright lying.

So here’s a handy list of marketing moves to rule out when you want to have the trust and respect of long-term customers and the public at large.

1. Non-existent scarcity

One well-known information marketing guru laughingly told a conference that he gets lots of last-minute orders by telling prospects that only five product sets are left, when in fact he’d gladly sell 500 more. Fake scarcity also crops up when someone says the price will go up after the next X units are sold, yet the marketer doesn’t raise the price; or when a sale is supposed to end Saturday and it’s still there on Sunday. Clearly all these examples show a lack of integrity. Even if you think “everyone does it,” you have the option of taking the higher ground.

2. Emotional manipulation

Certain phrases enrich marketers by triggering guilt, shame, confusion or fear in customers. One marketer says you can reduce refund requests by saying, “and if you’re not satisfied, I’ll refund you out of my own pocket.” This implies the refund comes from the marketer’s money, making the customer feel guilty about not being happy with the purchase, when it’s really the customer’s own payment that would be coming back to them when they return something for a refund. Don’t perpetrate twisted tactics like this.

3. False front

The classic move in this category is getting photographed beside a Rolls Royce parked in front of a mansion. The car is rented, though, and the mansion belongs to someone else. Inflating your lifestyle, your credentials, your depth of experience — it’s all wrong and can boomerang on you disastrously when an ex-friend, investigative blogger, a lawsuit or your own momentary lapse into truth-telling exposes you.

4. “Bestseller”

A whole industry flourished for a while devoted to the aim of achieving something that would be technically true yet highly misleading to the average person. If you engineer a relatively small number of sales in a short period of time, you can reach the #1 rank in an Amazon.com category and call your book a “bestseller.” The intention here is to deceive people into thinking thousands or tens of thousands of copies sold when the actual tally might have been less than a hundred.

5. Overblown promises

Take a cold, hard look at your headlines. Are you promising results that your buyer desperately desires and probably will not get? “From Couch Potato to Beach Bikini Goddess Without Diet or Exercise!” “Become the Talk of the Town With Your Google Places Listing.” A little bit of drama to get attention might be okay, but over-the-top promises have no place in a respectable business.

6. Refund obstacles

Someone selling thousand-dollar home-study courses once gleefully described a new technique he’d come up with to make it harder for people to return his products for a refund. It was impossible to open his mailing package without shredding it, so any customer would have to find or buy a box to send the course back in order to invoke the money-back guarantee. When your goal is having happy buyers rather than lots of unhappy ones who never ask for their money back, this kind of chicanery makes no sense.

7. Competition as bogeyman

Here the pitch warns that if you don’t buy the product, competitors who do will leave you in the dust. Do you have any genuine basis for that kind of a prediction? If yes, explain. If not, then it’s nothing but hot air, hype and hoopla. Don’t go there.

8. Sloppy work for fast money

When a marketing guru says you’re foolish to care about quality and that “good enough” wins the day, shut your ears. Never deliberately leave mistakes, oversights, glitches or holes in your work. If you have something you’re tempted to apologize for, fix it before you go to market. Remember that with today’s ubiquitous online reviews and social media, complaints are easier than ever to post.

9. Deliberate “Oops”

Sometimes you’ll see two or even three emails in a row from the same source, with the second and third correcting an error in the link in the first email. Unfortunately, some marketers have figured out that those second and third emails get more attention for the message than the first one, and they occasionally create this sequence deliberately. Do this on purpose and then make a genuine error you have to correct, and you begin to look hopelessly incompetent.

10. Sales pitch in masquerade

Ever grind your teeth because you signed up for a webinar or conference to learn the featured content only to suffer through an extended pitch for a new product or event instead? Call a preview a preview, so customers understand what they’re getting into. Don’t invite visitors to your website to download a “report” that is little more than a promotion. Set up accurate expectations to earn trust.

11. Non-free freebie

When you describe something as “free,” that means it has no cost. Period. Something that the customer receives only when they buy something else is not free. Marketers often fudge this because they understand the power of the word “free.” Customers get disgusted because they were attracted and then fooled by the word “free.”

12. Numbers rule

Testing helps us determine what works best. However, some marketers go beyond the usefulness of testing to claim that whatever gets a better response is always the better tactic. A little voice inside you worrying that maybe a headline, a selling technique or a marketing spiel goes too far is irrelevant, they say. On the contrary, giving that little voice a fair hearing can often keep you from getting customer backlash and negative media attention. It also helps you maintain your self-respect!

All in all, if you wouldn’t feel comfortable having something be exposed on the front page of the newspaper, engraved on your tombstone or part of your entry interview at the pearly gates, don’t do it. Guard your reputation.

Featured image courtesy of jurvetson licensed via Creative Commons.

Marcia Yudkin

http://www.yudkin.com

Marcia Yudkin is a copywriting and branding expert and the author of 6 Steps to Free Publicity, now in its third edition, along with 15 other books. Her ebook No-Hype Copywriting: The Keys to Lively, Appealing and Truthful Sales Writing, is available on Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. Follow her on Twitter or learn more about no-hype copywriting at her website.

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10 comments
maeganA
maeganA

Overblown promises, this is one of the most hopeless strategy a marketer would make. I would call it "greed simulation" wherein it enables the fantasy of the prospects to desire beyond reality and sometimes would result in failing their expectation. Making them unhappy and unsatisfied. 

DeductiveSEO
DeductiveSEO

"Even if you think “everyone does it,” you have the option of taking the higher ground."

That's the best advice right there.

In business your reputation is priceless. Some seem to think that tricking customers with fake scarcity is the way to go, but ultimately those practices will cost them. You may fool them once, but you'll also jeopardize your chances for repeat sales.

Show integrity and an important part of your customer base will love you for it.


ambrking
ambrking

"Sales pitch in masquerade". This is so common with a lot of businesses. False pretense will not help your business. Thanks for the article Marcia, great read.

Peter D Mallett
Peter D Mallett

This is a wonderfully refreshing article to read. Thank you for "calling out" some of these practices for what they are: manipulative. It does seem in some businesses today think that anything goes as long as sales go up, but they can just as quickly go down. It is still good to think honestly and for the long term. The one that always gets me on tv is get a second one free...just pay seperate shipping, which actually covers the cost of the item (and then they ship them together!).

Simontea
Simontea

Yes -

Non-existent scarcity  - this one stink, I never never buy anything from this guy who use them. We are seling gift baskets and we are honest with people, and it s pay off. It takes time  but we got regular clients  thanks to this approach.  Be honest with your clients. You are not biggest, best  and all that, just be what you are.

Leah Strohman
Leah Strohman

Great article Marcia - thanks for writing this! 

RSS_Tools
RSS_Tools

Number 12 is one of my pet peeves. I call it the "All publicity is good publicity"-fallacy. Some marketers get so blinded by the numbers that they abandon common sense.  They don't care about alienating large parts of their existing and potential customer base as long as "the numbers" keep improving. That those tactics could come back and bite them in the *ss or that whatever they are measuring might not even be a good indicator of what they think they are measuring doesn't even cross their minds.

avacristi
avacristi

There’s also one tactic I call, “gibberish textbook language”; it’s when you explain in complicated details and even bomb it with scientific terms knowing your prospects aren’t familiar enough to relate it to the main point of your agenda just to give off that edginess. Seriously, though, take it down a notch. Thanks for bringing it up, Marcia. Hopefully we’ll lessen these mistakes in the future! 

Marcia Yudkin
Marcia Yudkin

@RSS_ToolsWhat a great point: "whatever they are measuring might not even be a good indicator of what they think they are measuring."  For example, they might be measuring the number of blog comments or new subscribers and assume that correlates to the respect of the marketplace when the very opposite might be true.  Thanks for your comments.

Marcia Yudkin
Marcia Yudkin

Avacristi, Interesting example, thanks!  Any sort of gibberish is not a good thing, and I do remember a few times seeing marketers who seemed more concerned about "snowing" readers who wouldn't understand what they were talking about than with communicating.  - Marcia

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