Does Manipulation Work in Marketing?

by   |  May 29, 2014
Does Manipulation Work in Marketing?

Manipulation works in marketing. Sometimes. But when do the tactics do more harm than good with consumer relations?

Let’s face it: manipulation is rampant in marketing campaigns.   The whole idea that marketers are trying to get you to do something–usually buy a product or service ASAP–is pretty manipulative.   But when does the manipulation go too far?

I got an email today from Demandbase.   I don’t even know how I got on their subscriber’s list in the first place.   I’m guessing it was through their partnership with Marketo, a company I much admire.

The subject line read: Mimi, your competitors will be so grateful . . .

The body of text continues: “…if you don’t sign up for our Virtual Marketing Innovation Summit for B2B. They’ll be thrilled if you miss out on the chance to learn about top B2B marketing innovations that are shaping the industry. They will celebrate when they hear industry leaders share their insider tips for transforming B2B marketing and you didn’t hear them.”

Kaplan used a similar tactic when I was taking a free trial of their GMAT prep course.   The instructor said, “I know some of you would rather go out on a Saturday night, but just remember that your competitors are studying and taking practice exams.”   That was the very moment I decided not to select Kaplan for GMAT preparation.

I’m turned off immediately any time marketers use my “competitors” as a tactic to rile me into compliance.   It doesn’t work.   It just irritates me and gives me a bad impression of their company in general.

Searching for the “Unsubscribe” button on the Demandbase email, I found none.   The only way to get out of it was to send a personal email to the sender, whose name I shall not mention.   I marked the email as spam.

Marketers beware: when your manipulation tactics become obvious, your marketing campaigns fall apart.

By contrast, I have only had positive contact with Marketo. I remain subscribed to their list because they educate me. Their marketing materials are much more tactful and subtle, which I prefer.   I study Marketo’s stuff to learn not only about the industry, but also how to create classy marketing materials.

There may be some people who respond to the “competitors are doing this” tactic, but I can’t imagine they feel inspired or uplifted in any way.   Companies might get a good short-term rise out of people, but that isn’t the way to forge a lasting bond between consumer and company.
DemandBase Email
As follow-up: I received another email from Demandbase inviting me to the same event (pictured here). It was much more of the sort of thing I would expect–and respect–from a marketing company of Demandbase’s caliber.

I think Demandbase would have done well to stick to this more professional format. Sometimes businesses like to issue more personal-looking emails from individuals, like the one I received earlier. The problem was in the manipulative tactic, not so much in the format of the first email. Demandbase would have done better to craft a more feel-good personal message, such as, “I’m so excited to tell you about this opportunity! This is what you can expect to get out of the event.” I wouldn’t have marked such an email as spam.

When devising marketing strategies, it is always best to do focus on building consumer relations.   Marketers should consider whether or not their methods could damage their relationship of trust with their customers.   If a tactic could have adverse long-term effects, it isn’t worth using.

That is a big lesson for today. Take notes.

More on: Insights, Marketing, Strategies
About the Author:

Mimi West is a consummate entrepreneur, brand and marketing expert. This retired opera singer and Founder of My Dream Teacher is now pursuing her MBA at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Administration. You can follower her on Twitter: @MimiGuynnWest.
Publshed: May 29, 2014  | 
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