Let’s Give Marketing a Good Name

By Ros O'Brien

Marketing sometimes gets a bad name, and I understand why. Often, it’s used in disingenuous ways – to manipulate and to misdirect. That said, organizations need to market in order to survive and grow.

At its core, marketing is just the practice of talking about yourself or your organization in strategic ways. It doesn’t have to involve any kind of dishonesty; in fact, it had better not, because people will generally know if you’re not telling the truth.

Here are some general guidelines for marketing without being manipulative:

Tell the truth. It’s the right thing to do. If you need a strategic reason, here it is: if you tell the truth about a brand, you will attract people who actually need what you’re marketing, and they will become loyal customers (or donors, etc). If you lie, you will attract the wrong people, they will be dissatisfied, and ultimately the marketing will backfire.

Don’t use fear to sell. I know people say that it works, but resist the urge to do it. It relies on using our most basic instincts to manipulate people into doing things against their will. Hope and inspiration are great motivators, so let’s use them instead. 

Repeat after me: “I will not spin…I will not spin…” Spinning is another word for lying. It’s not okay.

A big one:

Market things that make the world a better place, not a worse one. We all get to choose where we work and what we do with our time. I believe it’s important to think carefully about what we want our legacy to be, and to not be afraid to turn things down. You don’t want to be the person who helped sell more cigarettes to kids. There’s plenty of good out there to lend our energy to.

In the end, I think it all comes down to the golden rule:

Do to others what you would have them do to you. I once had someone tell me they didn’t think some of the more manipulative tools of persuasion were inherently ethical or unethical. I completely disagree. I think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than that: if you wouldn’t use a particular tactic to convince a loved one to do something, it’s not okay to use it on the general public.

Marketing ethically is completely possible. It just takes some courage…Courage to make the argument for ethical tactics to your superior…Courage to turn down work from time to time, even though it means you lose some money…Courage to take a more difficult path, because you know it will pay off in the end.

And it will.

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