I told you those two stories so you could see where I think the line gets crossed by marketers, but also so I could tell you this story.
In 1999 Douglas Rushkoff published a book called Coercion, which essentially tracks the evolution of marketing into a branch of psychology. He illustrates exactly how marketers try to influence and persuade you in various media, and outlines the history of marketing as a measured science.
It all started with a copywriter named Claude Hopkins who first applied empirical testing to advertising elements back in the 1920s, and of course things have only become more sophisticated. Massive database profiles, television “programming,” contextual web ads, sophisticated algorithms that make recommendations based on past behaviors—these are some of the ways marketers are trying to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.
Meanwhile, as we all have become more media savvy, cynicism among consumers has never been higher. Some consider all marketing coercive and manipulative, simply because influence is being employed for money. While Rushkoff doesn’t quite go there, I think that’s what people come away with after reading his book.
Online, this rampant cynicism is the motivation for a new movement some call Marketing 2.0. More authenticity, transparency, dialogue, proof, and education are the only way to overcome heavy skepticism according to this “new” school of thought.
A few thoughts of my own:
- It should be clear to you that I don’t believe marketing messages that tell the truth are coercive. We all use influence to get things in life—time, love, friendship, fame, power, loyalty, and yes . . . money too. The fact that some people ignore that human beings are natural creatures of influence in all areas of life simply demonstrates that those people place too much emphasis on the abstract symbol of value we call money.
- There is nothing new about Marketing 2.0. These techniques have been used outside of the mass media since the beginning of humanity. Whenever you’re trying to reach people in a more direct fashion (as opposed to through a television screen), authenticity, transparency, dialogue, proof, and education are crucial. Online is no different.
- Here’s the irony—persuasion works best when it’s invisible. The most effective marketing leaves people with the impression that they have made a completely independent decision based only on the facts. But that’s not how people make decisions (as Rushkoff’s Coercion and Cialdini’s Influence make clear), and therefore the “new” marketing could be viewed as the most manipulative form of selling ever.
Again, that’s not how I view it. But here are three tried and true copywriting techniques that fly under a prospect’s radar, disarm cynicism, and yet still powerfully persuade. You can come to you own conclusions about their level of evil.
- Honesty – Try pointing out the flaws in your offering upfront, explaining that the product is not for everyone, and being brutally frank. In this day and age of exaggeration and fine print, people are so disarmed by simple and intentional honesty that they will pay closer attention to the rest of what you have to say, and you’ll have more credibility in the prospect’s eyes when it’s time for a purchase decision.
- Storytelling – Stories engage a reader’s mind and emotions in a way that dry sales text can never accomplish. Plus, in addition to the literal story that you tell, every good story provides a connotation that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. And since people rarely argue with their own conclusions… You get it, right?
- Teaching – When we learn new things, we grow new neural connections in our brains as we expand our knowledge. And brain research confirms that emotional engagement is linked to learning because it helps us recall relevant memories stored in our central nervous system. This means teaching with solid emotionally-based messages is simply smart marketing.
So, want to reach directly into someone’s mind and push the right buttons?
Tell honest stories that teach people why they should use your product or service.
Subscribe to Copyblogger today!