Deception in marketing is not new. From glossy images of Hamburgers too big for your hand, deceptively labelled product ingredients to false claims and promises. We have all been emotionally manipulated in to a purchasing decision whose promises proved false.
But there is another kind of deception at work on the web. One that is encouraged by SEO and Web Marketing Gurus but ultimately hated by consumers.
These kinds of deception are ultimately destructive to user trust. They waste user’s time and they can seriously hurt your brand and your credibility.
It’s not that these marketing campaigns are lying: It’s what they are not disclosing up front. And here is the thing:
These Deceptive Web Marketing Tactics are so Unnecessary.
If you want people to love and trust your brand, I strongly urge you to avoid these kinds of unnecessary forms of web marketing deception.
The kind of Deception I have in mind is that deception which does not disclose critical information upfront or which pulls an irritating bait and switch on you.
Here are two examples.
Twitter Email Marketing Failure
So, I got this email from Twitter encouraging me to create a Twitter Website Card….
In between the two images, Twitter had a blurry image showing you what looks like an online form which you fill out to get your Website Card up and running.
Let’s look at what’s on offer here:
- The Promise of More Traffic
- A Simple Four Step Plan to attract an Audience
- The Promise of a Visually Appealing Card or Tweet which will appear… somewhere.
Nice, sounds great, says me. So I click on the link all ready to roll. And I get this:
Give me Your Credit Card
What do you think I did when I was suddenly being asked for a Credit Card? I closed the window.
In case you missed it, here is the narrative.
Twitter: Hi David, you know about Twitter Cards, right? Do you know that a Twitter Website Card can boost your traffic by 43%?
David: Hi Twitter, yeah, I have been using Twitter Cards for a while. They are a free way to utilise images in Twitter feeds and improve your brand impact.
Twitter: Why don’t you click on the link and create a website card now?
Twitter: May I have your credit card please.
David: I beg your pardon?
Twitter: Credit Card please.
David: I think I must have clicked the wrong link, I wanted to create a Website Twitter Card
Twitter: No, this is the link. Credit card please.
The sound of my delete key can be heard echoing across the Scottish Highlands.
OK, I get it now. This is an offer to jump in to Twitter’s advertising network. That’s fair. But that was never mentioned.
I wasn’t invited to advertise on Twitter. I was invited to Create a Website Card. Subtle, but Stupid.
This problem is not just a figment of my grumpy nature. Recent research by Moz and Fractl show that Email marketing is being met with increasing indifference.
The survey showed that among those things most likely to cause a negative reaction are cause a negative influence on buying decisions were Mobile app ads, display ads, paid search, and email marketing.
As Kelsey Libert observed,
“Interestingly, email marketing was most likely to negatively impact buying decisions, with about 44% of respondents slightly less likely (22.9%) or significantly less likely (21.4%) to buy something they hear about via email marketing.”
Take Away: Build Marketing Trust:
Don’t Surprise Your Audience. Don’t Turn Corners without a Warning. If you plan to charge them, tell them. If you are going to want payment, let them know right up front.
SumoMe Toying with Brian Deans Integrity and My Heart
There I was, quietly enjoying my SumoMe experience on my WordPress site, thinking it might even be worth buying some of their stuff.
Until I received this.
At first I was excited. Let’s have a look at what’s on offer:
- Brian Dean: He is a Big Cookie in the Online Marketing Biscuit Tin
- How to Kind Good Keywords
- How to Create Exceptional Content
- Brians’ SEO Checklist and Link Building Swipe File
And all for Free. No Pitch, no sale. Just Good stuff from a reliable source, and all for free.
Such value, such genuine help. You can imagine my enthusiasm. SumoMe just went up in my estimation.
I was there, ready to give them my soul upon the altar of decent plugins, when in the very next paragraph, I read this…
So, they have sent me, a free user, a great offer, 100% free, No Pitch!
No, no pitch, just a catch. The catch being that I have to become a paid pro user to qualify.
Now, SumoMe and a bunch of marketers, and perhaps even Brian Dean might defend the tactic. But here’s the thing…
Whether or not you think this is acceptable, I felt cheated.
It doesn’t mater what the intent is.
Marketing Rule Number One: The meaning of your Communication is the Response You Get.
My response was irritation. Distrust. The feeling that I had just been cheated out of 2 minutes of my valuable time.
Why not address this as a benefit to Pro users and then encourage me to become one? Why offer me something for free that isn’t for free at all. Why deny you’re pitching when your pitching?
Yeah, I know, I can get the free trial and benefit from the offer. The problem here is not that it’s only for Pro SumoMe users (trial or otherwise). The problem is that you put a totally unexpected hurdle in on the last leg.
Will there be more surprise hurdles down the road? i don’t have time to find out. Trust has been lost.
They might have started by saying that this is an offer for pro users, but, if you want to take a free trial you can still get the benefits. I might have enjoyed the ride that followed and all the promises that they made.
They didn’t start that way and irritation followed.
Take Away: The Meaning of Your Communication is the Response You get:
Don’t play games with Your Audience. If you’re offering something to a certain sector of your market, say so. Then encourage me to join that sector. If you want your audience to trust you and not delete your email outright in the future, don’t undermine your brand.
Why You Should Avoid Deceptive Web Marketing
People don’t like feeling that they have been led up the garden path, so don’t do it. Marketing campaigns that use trickery, are not transparent, are desperate, have catches and hidden conditions are flat out bad for business.
- Users will not trust you in the future
- Your Audience will write articles like this one
- It costs you money and has a poor RIO
- It’s irritating. Why would you want to do that?
If you have something of genuine benefit to offer your audience, and they can find you, they will take up your offer and you will reap the reward, along with them.
If it’s genuinely beneficial, focus on the benefits. Be transparent. Aim to satisfy your audience emotionally and build trust.
I have no doubt that the offers mentioned above can yield tremendous benefits. Twitter is a great source of traffic and Brian Deans treasure chest of link building footnotes are things I would like to have in my top draw.
But I am a busy man. If you lose my trust the first time you reach out, I don’t have time to overcome the distrust next time you email me.
Most times you only get one crack at making a new and trusted friend out of a site visitor or prospective client.
On this occasion, the boy has cried wolf and I have left the building.