I rebel against companies that try to emotionally manipulate me into buying their product.
Let me explain.
Here are three emotionally manipulative marketing strategies that I’ve observed: empty promises, guilt-laden and fear-based.
- Empty promises marketing basically means the company makes implicit promises it is unable to fulfill - like you’ll be sexy, popular or cool if you buy our product. Razor ads. Perfume ads. You know what I’m talking about here.
- Guilt-laden marketing lays guilt on a person if they don’t buy-in. Two examples of this: 1. The ALS ice-bucket challenge - the implicit message: you’re a terrible person if you don’t participate. 2. A pop-up on the TOMS website that said “I love companies that give back and use business to improve lives” with a button for I agree or I disagree. I clicked I agree and it took me to a “So do we” message with an email opt-in popup. Who the heck is going to click I disagree?! Even if you do disagree, you’re not going to click it and admit you’re a horrible, evil corporation lover. It’s clearly manipulating you to “align” yourself with TOMS.
- Fear-based marketing works like the local news with a product plug at the end. This technique is commonly used for security systems (if you don’t buy this alarm system, it’s implied that someone is going to break into your house) and sanitizers (inciting fear of diseases in order to motivate purchases).
These motivations work. But at what cost to your long-term success? Each of these emotional manipulations set up false scenarios which ultimately leave the person feeling manipulated. Which will mean to them that your business can’t be trusted. And if no one trusts your business, then it is dead in the water. Yes, you can make money in the short-term by manipulation, but in the long-term, people will distrust your business.
You want people to choose your business because you offer the best - the best care, the best service, the best products. You want people to choose your business because they are on board with your mission. You want people to leave your business feeling good because they were cared for individually -- not because they have short-term peace of mind by resolving a manipulated emotion.
But, since emotionally manipulative marketing is so classically ingrained in business, how do you keep from creating emotionally manipulative ads yet create ads that are still effective?
Transparency and honesty. Simply say who you are. What your product actually is. The true benefit of it. Don’t imply it will do more than it does, but don’t say it will do less either. You can obviously use images of beauty in your advertising and not imply that your product will make people popular. You can ask questions to find common ground with a potential customer without manipulating with guilt. You can demonstrate the safety your product provides without inciting fear.
It’s a really fine line. But it comes out of your own motivation. Do you want to sell your products as fast as possible no matter the long-term cost? Are you most concerned about making money in the short-term or about creating a long-term sustainable business?
If your motivation is to build a loyal customer base, you’ll be more likely to market your product in the most honest, transparent way possible. But if your motivation is to make as much money as fast as possible, you’ll be more likely to compromise on your marketing strategies to ensure short-term gain.
And if you’re choosing to care about the long-term - be encouraged. You can sell without being manipulative - Cards against Humanity has demonstrated this. People buy into your ideas, your vision and your thoughts as a business now more than ever. You just have to share them.
Be honest about who you are and people who "get you" will buy in. There’s no need to manipulate.