There’s a conversation going on in the business arena at the moment about certain well-known, cult-followed marketing practices, and a “calling out” of certain large brands who follow these practices.
It’s these conversations that have inspired me to write this article.
Because, I’ve found it hard to decipher from the commentary what specifically the actual problem is, and what the proposed solution is.
Rather than participate in a “my way of business is better than yours” situation, I have decided to pen my thoughts to paper in what I hope is a helpful and practical way of contribution.
Because, I would hate anyone witnessing the conversation to hear the message that all marketing of your business is bad, and lose confidence in marketing their business.
Since marketing your business is the lifeblood of your business growth, and without marketing your business might shrivel and die.
But, this article isn’t just about educating you in not what to do in your own business marketing (because I’m sure you don’t do any of these things yourself!) It’s about calling this stuff out so more people can make wise buying decisions.
Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint ourselves what isn’t working for us as a customer on the receiving end of these things. We only know it doesn’t feel good.
If we boycott businesses who use these tactics by not buying from them, that damages their businesses and forces change for good.
My hope is that discussing these things in detail can help empower you as both a business owner and a consumer.
Let’s start by looking at what marketing is and isn’t:
Marketing is the act of telling people about your business and making people offers to buy your products or services.
Marketing your business is necessary for all businesses.
It is impossible to grow a business without marketing.
Marketing itself is not bad.
There are however, marketing practices that are designed simply to make the maximum amount of money possible and do not consider the customer in the equation (other than as a number to derive financial gain from).
These are selfish.
They are slimy.
I also believe these marketing practices are short-sighted and will eventually catch up on a business.
I would never recommend any of these marketing methods.
So, here goes. Here are my thoughts in how to market your business with integrity…
Decide on your company values and ensure your marketing practices are aligned with them
This is something that a lot of small businesses don’t necessarily consider. But, it’s really important to stop and think about what’s important to you as a person (and therefore you as a business).
You can explore these by asking yourself questions like:
- What are your values?
- What do you stand for?
- Is your business inclusive and how can you maximise its inclusiveness?
- How do you want people to feel when they deal with your business?
For some people it’s hard to consider what they stand for, if it’s something you haven’t thought about before.
If you’re finding it hard, then start with what you don’t stand for:
- What do you find gross, icky or sleazy in your industry?
- Now reverse that and you’ll slowly uncover what you stand for.
Once you’ve decided what you stand for, you can start to consider how you are living those values in your business:
- Are there any changes you need to make to how your business operates so that you can ensure you’re living those values?
- How could you make those changes? (e.g. does it require you to do some extra education or training)
Consider your customer and make your marketing about them, not you
One of the most widely taught marketing techniques around today is a marketing or sales funnel.
This is a way of doing business that works to push people down a funnel.
People enter the wide mouth of the funnel when they learn about your business, and they move down toward the narrow part of the funnel through a variety of techniques and tactics, all designed to get them to make the first purchase.
There’s a reason I don’t ever teach marketing/sales funnels. This is because I believe these terms are exclusively about the business and what it wants to gain. To me, they make the customer out to be a number. Or even worse – a cash cow.
I dislike the sales funnel language immensely for that reason!
For this reason I call the marketing process I teach a Customer Pathway.
The difference is right there in the name – it’s not about me and my financial gain (even though of course as a business that’s an element). It’s about my customer.
In my teaching, a Customer Pathway looks like an hourglass:
It’s hard-ish to see the difference at a glance. But, a Customer Pathway believes:
Our customers are human beings not numbers.
They have needs.
They have feelings.
They have problems.
We want our businesses to help our customers solve their problems.
This is what makes our business desirable to them.
If our solutions don’t work, they’ll tell all their friends and that’s bad for our businesses.
Fact: without our customers, we do not make any money.
Therefore, it’s our job to deliver on the solution we promise and delight our customers.
By delighting them, it in turn helps our businesses grow. Because our customers then share their delight with their friends and family.
This is the best kind of marketing for our business!
According to Harvard Business Review, peer reviews influence 90% of all business to business buying decisions.
Which is only one of the reasons I believe our first marketing priority should always be delighting our customers.
I believe that if you focus on creating a customer centric business, you will grow a long-term, sustainable and very successful business.
So, that all sounds well and good (and common sense). But what actual difference does it make in a practical sense?
There’s often a really fine difference between a marketing “funnel” and a “Customer Pathway” show up, so let’s explore the differences in detail.
I feel it’s important to note here that not all funnels are created equal – and I’m not suggesting all marketing funnels do the things I am suggesting below. But some do. And that’s the conversation that needs to be had…
Here are some differences between dirty marketing and marketing with integrity…
Do not sell your customers something they don’t need
There is a wildly popular, cult-followed, funnel software guru out there, who I’ve seen teach people to use funnels to sell people things they don’t need (or, at least not need in that quantity).
One specific example that comes to mind in the teaching is that of some kind of herbal supplement.
The mentality of this specific funnel is that if someone is buying something, they’re primed to buy more. So, on the thank you page, let’s offer them a limited time offer to buy like 5 more of the same supplement at a discounted price.
Here’s the thing: no one needs 6 bottles of the same supplement!
At this point the customer doesn’t even necessarily know that the supplement works for them and their body.
This funnel doesn’t take that into consideration.
But, this “funnel” is effective because it uses an impulse buying mentality to get people to make a quick decision.
Sure, it’s good for the business in the short-term to get someone to upgrade their order to 6 bottles, because it maximises the average transaction value.
That’s why businesses do it.
Anyone who’s been through one of these funnels also knows that there’s usually like 6 or 7 different upsells or downsells in the process.
Hands up who feels good when they’ve been through one of those funnels?
Not many people I know!
Because they’re not focused on you as the customer and what you need. They’re focused on extracting every buck out of you as a number to the business!
In my Customer Pathway teaching, I also teach how to use an order bump or an upsell to raise the average transaction value.
So, what’s the difference?
I’m glad you asked!
A Customer Pathway is about: getting the customer awesome results from their first purchase, so that they WANT to come back again and again and you have a customer for life.
If we stick to the supplement example, then it would be about making the supplement such high quality, that it really works. Therefore the customer wants to keep taking it.
Then it might look like sending them well-timed remarketing emails with a quick link to reorder, making it easier for them to reorder.
I still teach to offer an order bump or an upsell. But instead of being 6 more of the same thing, it might instead look like upgrading to a bigger bottle for only slightly more money.
Or, upgrading to a bundle that includes a product which amplifies the results when used together.
But the difference is certainly there!
The difference is:
It’s not spending for spendings sake.
It’s about helping the customer improve their results by showing them things you have to help which they might not have otherwise seen.
This leaves the customer leaving the transaction with a smile on their face, and excited to get their new purchase, not a feeling of regret thinking “crap, maybe I should have tried it out first before buying 5 more on impulse”…
Do not give false representations of a product just to get people to buy something.
I’m usually pretty careful when buying online and I always look up reviews first. But, this slimy marketing happened to me in the last month when I ordered something that was absolutely not as described.
The product in question is a bra I purchased. Prior to purchasing I looked at all the reviews (which seemed legit) and these gave me the confidence to buy.
The company made me a limited time offer on the next page to purchase another one at 50% off.
I took the offer.
They arrived and oops –
They are CRAP.
Absolutely terrible quality (the worst thing I’ve bought online in a long time) and I want to send them back.
They are not as described at all.
I’ve tried emailing the company 4 times and not heard back. So now I’m stuck with my good for nothing purchase.
I googled to find the company again and realised that I can’t leave a review. I now believe all those reviews I was reading are fake.
This is a prime example of a non customer-centric business.
They delivered a product at least, but it didn’t delight!
They are not interested in me as a customer or they would have got back to my (3!) refund requests (which they promised on the sales page would be possible!!!).
They made false promises and just wanted me to part with my money.
Don’t do that.
It’s not cool.
Now I’ve left them a negative Facebook review and will tell everyone not to buy from their business.
Do not make false promises or inflate the results people will get
When you’re marketing your product, it’s good to make a “promise”.
A promise is:
What transformation or solution can people expect to see when they purchase your product/service?
I encourage all my clients and students to think about this when they’re creating their product or service, because it’s important. We need to be aware of what we’re promising our things can do for people.
But, for the love of all things delicious,
Do not inflate the results they can expect, or promise results that are impossible to promise.
Let’s look at an example from my own business by looking at the promise I make for one of my courses – ‘Master Email Marketing’
I promise, by the end of this course people will know:
- What email marketing is
- Why it’s important for their business
- What emails to send, and how often to send them
- How to send them
- And how to review and analyse their results
The end result is that I promise people it’ll help them use email marketing to grow their business.
That’s a pretty simple and clear promise right?
Do I guarantee their emails are going to get results and make them loads of money?
Because that’s impossible to promise.
Their success depends on so many factors outside of my control.
- What they’re selling / their industry
- The quality of what they’re selling
- The price they’re selling it for
- The perceived value of their offer
- The confidence people have in their brand
- What competition they have
All that before we even get to how well they’ve put into practice what I recommend!
Yet, I see other people make icky promises about their courses and the results people get, all the time.
Let’s look at the subtle differences between two possible promises using a different one of my courses:
In my Promote Like a BOSS course promise I can competently say things like:
“This course will teach you how to create a Promotion Plan for your business. I’ve used this same method to help my clients and myself 2x – 10x our sales results”
That’s true. I will teach someone how to create a Promotion Plan.
And I have used that method to help people get those levels of results.
What’s not true is if I said this:
“This course will teach you how to create a Promotion Plan for your business. This method is guaranteed to help you 5x – 10x your sales results”.
Nope. Not true.
The second is an example of a slimy marketing tactic!
Just because something has worked well for others, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone.
I can’t guarantee it’ll work for them.
I can only guarantee I’ll teach them a system that has worked for other people.
Subtle difference but BIG difference.
So, make sure that difference is clear to people in your marketing.
Make sure you’re not inflating results.
Make sure that you’re not making false promises (or even letting people create false assumptions – that’s just as bad).
Making false promises is a one-way ticket to short-lived business town.
Do not over inflate the value of something to give people a false sense of discount
We’ve just talked about false promises or inflating the results you can help people achieve, but another dirty marketing tactic I see people do in their marketing is give a false representation of the value of something to overly inflate the discount.
People who’ve been around me for a while know I’m all about using a compelling offer in marketing.
A compelling offer is: something that the value is so clear it’s a no brainer for people to buy.
It’s super powerful at getting people to make a decision.
But only if it benefits the customer and can be done from a place of integrity.
One of the ways to achieve a compelling offer is to create a table of value where you show everything in the table of value with its own value against it, then show the actual investment as a lot less.
An example of this is, at the moment I have an offer for people to have a marketing audit with my business.
Here’s the current table of value:
The compelling offer part is that all those things individually add up to $638 in value, but the person is paying $97.
I’m not making those values up. Those things are individually valued at those prices. And I lose money on this particular offer because it takes me so much time to deliver them + create the personalised plan. As a result I can truly say that I only have a limited number of spots available for these every month. Which makes them sell out quickly.
So, why do I do them if I’m losing money on them?
Because, I can deliver so much value to the customer in these sessions that it’s a no brainer for people to keep wanting to work with me. They are so so so much more effective than me offering a “free strategy session” with an unknown value and unknown outcome and therefore a very valuable and useful part of my Customer Pathway for both me as the business and my customers.
One of my recent marketing audit clients just shared in a very large Facebook the following comment:
“I also highly recommend Kat Soper. I learnt more from her in one hour than I did in 6 months with my previous business mentor.”
Now if that doesn’t do the marketing for me and make my life easier as a business, I don’t know what does!!!
That’s what it means to delight your customer.
But, if someone creates a table of value and makes up the figures to make it seem like incredible value, that’s not standing in integrity.
Value is tricky, because it can be very subjective.
Your gut usually knows whether it’s true or not. So I recommend going with your gut.
Bottom line is don’t over inflate the prices just to over-inflate the value and make people think you’re giving them a big discount.
People will see through it and feel ripped off.
A ripped off customer doesn’t not speak highly about your business or come back to use your business again and again.
Do not sell a false impression of your reality (by pretending something is what it isn’t)…
Another mega influencer was pulled up and held accountable last year, by her followers, after going through a very public divorce. It wasn’t the divorce that was the problem. We’re all imperfectly human right? It was the fact that she’d profited very heavily from giving life and marriage advice just prior to the divorce. It came out that the marriage problems had been going on for years, which didn’t fit the persona demonstrated, and people felt she hadn’t been honest about what was really going on. It was felt she was profiting off a fake reality.
There’s a big difference between imposter syndrome:
Imposter syndrome is: a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
And actually being a fraud.
It’s widely encouraged online that you “fake it til you make it”.
I think being fake will only get you so far.
People are looking for genuine human connection now even more than ever. It’s these genuine relationships that will create lasting bonds and loyalty from your customers in the long term. Because people buy from people.
That doesn’t mean to say you have to share every single thing.
It’s simple really…
Just be honest.
Do not gaslight / manipulate your customers into buying something
“Gaslighting is: a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. People experiencing gaslighting often feel confused, anxious, and unable to trust themselves.”
Gaslighting is a terrible but relatively common way to market a product/service.
Gaslighting looks like making your audience feel compelled to buy your product/service because if they don’t something bad might happen to them.
If we go back and think about our customer promises for a minute, a gaslighting version of the Promote Like a Boss promise might be:
“This course will teach you how to create a Promotion Plan for your business. This method will help you 5x – 10x your sales results. Your business will be useless and fail if you don’t follow this specific process”.
This is simply not true and it’s very damaging to say!
But it’s shocking how many people use various versions of gaslighting promises to get people to purchase from their business.
I can’t really say any more about it other than gaslighting is possibly one of the very worst types of marketing out there.
It’s not cool.
Don’t do it in your business.
Don’t be exclusive with your marketing
One thing that marketing teaches, is to niche down.
Niching down is: talk to someone specific in your marketing rather than trying to appeal to a mass market
This is because if you try to appeal to everyone, your message will end up so watered down that it will appeal to no-one.
But, there’s a difference (sometimes a very fine difference) between niching down and being exclusive.
Exclusiveness is: excluding certain people or groups from being able to access your solutions. Or, making people feel unwelcome to use your business.
This is a huge topic which (coming from my place of privilege) I’m not going to even remotely proclaim that I’m an expert in. And I probably couldn’t even do justice to it in a whole blog post let alone a few paragraphs.
But it’s important to consider the topic of inclusivity and diversity.
Have you put thought into how you can niche down without being exclusive?
I know I’m not perfect at this and I’m already aware of certain areas I am actively trying to improve upon!
But, here are some ways we try to be inclusive at The Helpful Academy to give you some inspiration of the types of things I’m talking about, and spark your thoughts about what you as a business might do:
We consciously use a variety of people in our images.
This is less obvious on our front-end website (because I use a lot of photos of me). But in our social media posts, courses, and workbooks you’ll find people of different genders, colours and backgrounds in the hopes that everyone can feel welcome and valued.
We use simple language and ways of communicating.
One of my values is that quality education should be accessible to everyone. One of the ways it becomes inaccessible is that things can become heavy with jargon or overly complicated. I therefore strive hard to write and present things simply, and get to the heart of the issue so that everyone can benefit, not just people who’ve had the privilege of higher education.
We release a wide range of high-quality free resources and strive to keep things affordable.
As a business we need to make money to be able to stay in business and to help people. However, my mission in life is to make quality business education accessible so that no one should miss out. That means that I do everything in our power to reach people in some way. Whether that’s through our free articles and resources, group programs or one-to-one high-end offers. There is something at a price point everyone can benefit from.
I encourage you now to think about your values when it comes to inclusivity and diversity, and how you bring those values into your marketing/business.
Do not slander other brands / businesses (or groups of people) you don’t agree with in your marketing or message
One of the biggest things that compelled me to write this article was seeing people slander other brands and businesses in the name of
“having a valuable conversation”
I’m calling that shit out right now.
Slamming other businesses is toxic and belongs in the crapper.
It’s bullying. Plain and simple.
We don’t like it done to our kids, so let’s lead by example!
Sure, slam the business practice (ahem – sales funnels anyone?). But don’t slam the person!
It’s ok to get angry. Or passionate.
It’s not ok to get aggressive.
It’s definitely not ok to make others feel unsafe.
There’s a VERY big difference between getting angry and getting aggressive.
Being angry is an emotion. Being aggressive is towards something or someone specific.
There are productive ways to market your business, call things out, have valuable conversations, have an impact on the world, without tearing other people down or creating a bigger divide.
I’m reminded of something I’ve heard one of my sister-in-law’s says to her children…
“Don’t tell me what you don’t want, tell me what you do want.”
This means that while it’s important to talk about the problems we want to solve, only going on and on about all the problems in the world isn’t very productive.
It can become whiny.
It drags down the mood.
It creates divides.
And it doesn’t solve anything.
So, I encourage you to be proactive in your marketing and message.
- What are the solutions you’d like to see?
- What information or education can you share that will truly make a difference and instigate change?
In other worlds – how can you be the change you wish to see in the world?
For me, that looks like writing this article.
Notice how I’ve very carefully talked about the issues, and given examples of the problems vs solutions, without slandering any specific businesses or groups of people.
We can only control one thing in any given conversation – ourselves!
We can show our values in the way we show up, the behaviour we demonstrate, and the actions we take.
We can’t control other people…
Marketing your business = a good thing
Marketing your business = an ESSENTIAL thing for all businesses of all industries.
The value of marketing is not in question given the recent controversies and conversations around big business / marketing gurus.
So, please don’t lose confidence in getting the name of your business and how you can help people out there.
Shine your light and please shine it loudly!!!
What IS in question are the some of the ways people market their businesses.
I hope this article has given you some confidence in ways you can market your business with integrity.
You might also like these three related articles:
- Why you need a Customer Pathway
- A Marketing Plan: your not-so-secret business tool
- How to market your business in a relevant way
About the author:
Kat Soper is the Founder and Head Trainer of The Helpful Academy Online Business School.
Kat is passionate about helping start-ups and small businesses succeed and achieve their business goals so that they can achieve the lifestyle they desire (and deserve).