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The Temptation of Greedy Marketing

Tall office buildings in the fog
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

In the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” the main character, investor Gordon Gecko boldly states that “Greed is good.” And as a business owner and marketer myself, I understand where he is coming from. But I can only agree up to a point.

Greed (or perhaps we might call it ambition) to achieve a few of life’s finer things for oneself or one’s family does get us out of bed in the morning to do things we don’t always find to be the most fun. It requires us to stretch ourselves a bit, show some courage and hustle. As a person involved in sales and marketing my entire career, I know this first hand. I know this career has made me more fearless than average, hence my moonlighting as a semi-pro musician and riding a motorcycle! (Credit the thousands of sales calls I’ve done over the years!). So a little greed or ambition can help a person become strong.

But there is a point when greed goes awry, especially when layered into marketing. It can turn dreams and healthy ambition into a dysfunctional cauldron of aggression and scare tactics. And it seems to be getting worse with every decade; much to my dismay…

It used to be that businesses put up signage, took out an ad in the yellow pages, and if they were really proactive, they did some print, radio or television. Every ad was very expensive, meaning usually only credible companies did much advertising, and certainly they would check and proof each ad, and be careful not to offend customers. The result was that marketers used to be creative people, spending real money. Even if all the ads weren’t easily trackable, at least they usually raised awareness of the businesses and instilled some pride from the employees.

Today’s marketing has taken the greed factor up 100 fold, and flushed the credibility of the industry down the virtual toilet: pop-ups that scare or insult, click bait ads that misinform, email spam that comes back no matter how many times you unsubscribe, mobile ads that know where you are, and remarketed ads that cling like leeches from a bog. These are marketers, whether in-house or from agencies, that are pushing hard for results and perhaps even getting them – if you believe the data they are schilling. But at what cost?

One of many pop-up examples where you are guilt-tripped into signing up.

We’ve got to ask: would you rather get 10 real, qualified visits to your website…or would you like 10,000 visits from people who have no need for your services, but got tricked into visiting you by a misleading ad? If the ad reports look stellar, but your sales aren’t, it’s time to rethink.

After we rebranded in 2011, an online marketer we were working with told us, “I can’t get you to rank unless you’re willing to do some grey hat*!” His argument was that if such techniques worked, we had no choice but to jump on the bandwagon. I had to say no – to me, if we have to be dirty to succeed, then we’ll have to do dirty things to help our clients succeed, and imagine how that might backfire. Our rankings took a dive for a while, but we persisted, and eventually we did get our ranks back up, and without using any grey hat techniques. Since that time, Google’s algorithm has changed countless times, and each time, it punishes and devalues sites using grey and black hat marketing techniques. As of now, I can’t claim that we’re always in the very top ranks, and maybe we’ll never be all the way there, but I’m proud that we continue to grow significantly, and we are definitely visible in the qualified areas in which we are targeting.

Fear-inducing click-bait articles are the norm on many popular websites. These were found on Entertainment Tonight (etonline.com).

So the bigger question is this: if your whole industry is playing in a crowded, bloody pool, doing absolutely anything and everything for business, why not step out of the mess and be different? Narrow the focus – get only the right clicks. Distribute high-quality content. And only email people who ask for your newsletter. Or, maybe it’s time consider some good old fashioned radio, billboards, or even well-planned direct selling. You might be the only competitor bothering to do so, and that’s a good thing.

Moreover, take responsibility for your marketing campaigns, and be sure your marketing teams aren’t stalking, spamming, and terrorizing your potential customers just to show you some impressive click reports. At Tenato, when new marketing techniques come along, we ask ourselves, “Would we want to be on the receiving end of that?” If the answer is no, then we don’t do it. Even if it might actually work.

True integrity in business today is something to be cherished, and while demonstrating it takes longer, it also lasts longer.

*grey hat or black hat marketing means using ethically questionable techniques to trick browsers such as Google and Bing into ranking a site closer to the top of search listings, e.g. overloading keywords, spamming other sites to get backlinks, and hidden text.

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Jacqueline Drew
About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary and Vancouver. She loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win" and is also an energetic supermom, songwriter and cross-country skier.

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