Trickery Is Not a Marketing Strategy

Despite what some people may think, I was not born yesterday. But lately I feel like I’ve been duped by intentionally deceptive marketing practices everywhere I turn. When legitimate companies deliberately use misleading marketing tactics to try and entice you to respond, I wonder who, exactly, thought this was a good idea?

Despite what some people may think, I was not born yesterday. But lately I feel like I’ve been duped by intentionally deceptive marketing practices everywhere I turn.

I’m far from being a novice when reading emails (so sorry if you really were mugged while travelling in Nigeria), answering the phone (no, I don’t want to invest in the new drug that cures cancer), or opening my door to strangers (based on the way you’re dressed, I sincerely doubt you’re collecting for the San Francisco Opera).

But when legitimate companies deliberately use misleading marketing tactics to try and entice you to respond, I wonder who, exactly, thought this was a good idea?

Let’s start with …

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
If you’ve read anything at all about how the Web works, you already know that for your target audience to find your web site, it needs to be optimized for Google.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a hotly debated topic because Google changes its algorithm regularly and it’s a closely guarded secret. But since Google’s priority is to serve their users and their expertise is to assign relevancy to web pages, it makes perfect sense that the brain collective at Google will eventually figure out that you may be trying to “game” the system when you place words on your site (or in your meta tags) that really have nothing to do with your products or services.

If you’ve optimized your site for Google’s Web crawlers (by including words that are truly relevant to your business), then the logical next step might be an SEM effort—because if you can’t get to the top of organic search results, then why not pay to ensure top billing?

The problem is that many brands are so desperate to wave their arms in front of a Google searcher and “throw their hat in the ring” that they’re choosing SEM words based on potential volume of searchers who will be exposed to their brand message. As a result, they are investing in order to be seen, paying to get clicks, but ultimately losing because they’re getting lots of bounces when searcher discovers the company can’t deliver the information/product/service they’re seeking.

For many business-to-business companies, the problem is not so much trickery, but a lack of alignment between a set of paid search terms and the landing page to which each SEM result is linked. I covered this problem in my recent webinar on website personalization, so you can learn more by listening on demand.

Misrepresentation in Email
Our agency has a GSA contract—meaning we have been approved by the Federal Government to bid on RFPs for government work. Recently, we were required to update our contact information in the SAM (System for Award Management) database. Upon completion, (or so we thought) I received an email from an individual who appeared to work for the federal government. They noted that our update was not complete, but instead advised that we needed to fill out an attached form.

The PDF, labeled “US Federal SAM Worksheet New,” certainly looked official enough, and it came from someone who called themselves a “Case Manager” at US Federal Contractor Registration.

But it wasn’t until we had completed and returned the form, and had several additional email exchanges, that we finally figures out that we were not corresponding with an official of the US Government, but instead with an outside consulting firm who would be charging us for their “help.”

Needless to say, I was aghast.

I’ve now gone back and carefully read and reread our email exchanges, trying to discover how I was so easily duped and how I allowed confidential information to be provided to this outside entity. And I can honestly tell you, it was deceptive from their first contact with us.

If you’re running a legitimate business, you shouldn’t have to resort to either SEM or email “trickery” to attract customers. If you do, you’re no better than those Nigerian email scams.

Author: Carolyn Goodman

A blog that challenges B-to-B marketers to learn, share, question, and focus on getting it right—the first time. Carolyn Goodman is President/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners. An award-winning creative director, writer and in-demand speaker, Carolyn has spent her 30-year career helping both B-to-B and B-to-C clients cut through business challenges in order to deliver strategically sound, creatively brilliant marketing solutions that deliver on program objectives. To keep her mind sharp, Carolyn can be found most evenings in the boxing ring, practicing various combinations. You can find her at the Goodman Marketing website, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @CarolynGoodman.

4 thoughts on “Trickery Is Not a Marketing Strategy”

  1. I’m so glad that you posted this. I have also noticed that more and more companies are resorting to trickery. I’ve noticed that all the credible companies offer ‘money back guarantees’, have cutomer support that responds in lightening fast time and are more the ameniable to settling valid customer issues.

    While this might not be out right trickery, banner adv that follow you are big deterents to wanting to do business with the advertising company. Not sure what others think, but personally I find them creepy.

  2. Thank you for sharing this valuable article. The same thing happened to me with a trademark company posing as the USPTO.

    It is appalling that companies can even get away with that type of “advertising” without putting some sort of disclosure statement saying they are NOT the federal government. I hope there is a governing organization that this type of communication can be sent to so they can be put on a list. This would be helpful for consumers who need to make sure they are dealing with the “real deal.” I know the biggest issue will be that they will just pop up with another name and email. Such a shame, really. There are so many ways to legitimately gain customers. Do a good job, have integrity, play fair. And ask for referrals. That’s how to grow a business.


    Heidi Richards Mooney, Social Media Training and Management
    Redhead Marketing, Inc.

  3. Good article. As marketers, we all come from an industry that has been influenced by direct mail. And in direct mail, it’s ok to dupe 99.5% of the people just to get .5% response. Haven’t we all seen direct mail pieces that say, “Valuable Gift Inside”? Or “Time Sensitive Material.” These marketers know that we will open the envelope, feel duped, and yet they think we will still buy from them? I don’t get it either.

    For my money, target your audience carefully, anticipate their wants, and provide great products and services. No need to dupe or trick people when you turn 99% of them against you.

  4. One of the top offenders is the Global Directory of Who’s Who. They email people as if it is an honored recognition of your career, etc. They set up a call, commend you for all that you’ve done, capture all the data and promise to write a bio, give you access to a network of executives, and you even get two round trip airline tickets! Then they tell you the “program” is $880! (And you never see them again.) Scandalous.

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