For the last few days I have been thinking about the dangers of manipulation in sales and marketing techniques.
The more we know about the way the human mind works, the motivations and desires we have and the art and science of influence and persuasion, the more the unscrupulous can manipulate our own minds to act against our best interests.
A number of forces have all come together to make me consider the business ethics involved in marketing:
- I am starting to build up my ideas for the customer focused entrepreneur (or custompreneur) series of blog articles and Squidoo pages which will lead to e-books, an online coaching program and hopefully a proper published book.
This focuses understanding, designing, communicating and delivering value to customers as the engine for business growth.
Nothing wrong with that but I am having to think about the differences between perceptions and reality. For customers to buy, they have to believe. A customer has to perceive that the product offers value for money over and above that offered by competitors but they don't discover the truth until after they have used the product or service, and may not even know then.
- I have been watching and listening to the Jeff Walker and Mike Filsaime presentations in Rich Schefren's Business Acceleration Program to write the second part of my review. It has come over loud and clear, just how powerful these techniques are if used by the wrong people in the wrong way.
Jeff Walker is in the pre-launch stage of the new version of Product Launch Formula which I am promoting through a Squidoo page - Product Launch Formula 2.0. Yesterday I felt compelled to add a health warning to warn people about the damage that using it could do to their reputations if their product was not up to standard.
- The latest Guerrilla Marketing Association I have listened to and blogged about was Marketing Using The Powers Of Psychology. One of the key messages is that if you keep repeating something enough, people will begin to believe it.
- I have come across a highly acclaimed series from BBC 4 called "The Century Of Self" which looks at the Freud family's role in the controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. The videos are below although each is long.
The write up on the BBC website says "By introducing a technique to probe the unconscious mind, Freud provided useful tools for understanding the secret desires of the masses. Unwittingly, his work served as the precursor to a world full of political spin doctors, marketing moguls, and society's belief that the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness is man's ultimate goal."
Can Marketing Do More Harm Than Good?
This is heavy and could make my brain hurt.
By improving our marketing skills, whose benefit are we really doing it for?
Is it truly win-win as I propose in my thoughts on the customer focused entrepreneur?
Or is it only win-win when built up in a world of self deception and illusion?
Do you remember the Keanu Reeves film "The Matrix" when we don't really live the life we think we do or the Jim Carey film "The Truman Show" where a man was the real life star of his own soap opera and everyone else around him were actors?
Is it right that "you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can't fool all the people, all the time?"
It seems to me that Jay Conrad Levinson is right with his allusion to marketing techniques as marketing weapons.
Like any weapon, a pistol, a rifle, a dagger or even "the bomb", marketing can be used as a force for good in the world to protect the innocent and to publicise the truth. To persuade people to buy the great products that consistently deliver on the advertising promises.
But it can also be used as a force of bad will, to rip-off the innocent and to defraud the unwary.
It's not a new problem as one of my few Latin phrases shows - "let the buyer beware".
But another thought has struck me.
If the seller is to behave ethically and stay within a verifiable version of the truth, what about the manipulations by the buyer. The less known Latin phrase is "Caveat venditor" - let the seller beware.
Who hasn't seen a buyer exaggerate the possible volumes that could be available or to disguise the genuine price offered by a competitor just to put the salesman under pressure and to win an extra price concession?
Video 1 - The Happiness Machine
The BBC describe this episode as "The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud's ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn't need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.
Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar."
Video 2 - The Engineering Of Consent
The BBC's description of this episode is "The programme explores how those in power in post-war America used Freud's ideas about the unconscious mind to try and control the masses.
Politicians and planners came to believe Freud's underlying premise - that deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires and fears. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of these instincts that had led to the barbarism of Nazi Germany. To stop it ever happening again they set out to find ways to control this hidden enemy within the human mind."
Video 2 does not have that much to do with marketing but it is extremely interesting and is amazing to see how much power the psycho-analysts had in the fifties and very early sixties.
Video 3 - There Is A Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed
It seems that Freud's ideas were challenged by the ideas of Wilhelm Reich who believed that the inner self should be encouraged to express itself rather than to be controlled. The self help movement has turned this into us into the Me Generation.
To quote the BBC again "But the American corporations soon realised that this new self was not a threat but their greatest opportunity. It was in their interest to encourage people to feel they were unique individuals and then sell them ways to express that individuality. To do this they turned to techniques developed by Freudian psychoanalysts to read the inner desires of the new self."
Video 4 - Eight People Sipping Wine In Kettering
This final video turns its attention to the way that Tony Blair and Bill Clinton borrowed the marketing ideas of business and applied them to the world of politics. Based on trying to target people's inner most desires, they tried to do good, unaware that the ideas they used were developed to control people.
Conclusion on Manipulation in Sales & Marketing
I would love to hear your thoughts on the ideas about manipulating customers to buy and in particular the videos.
What do you think about the development and the popularisation of powerful methods of influence and persuasion, both as a buyer and a seller?
I feel certain that this is an article that I will add to and extend after I have let the ideas in the video sink in and consider the implications.
Update - Mind Control Marketing
A few years ago top marketer Mark Joyner wrote a book called Mind Control Marketing which explained all kinds of psychological tricks. It became an instant success but was suddenly taken off the market. Mark Joyner was concerned how these techniques would be used to manipulate customers.
Mind Control Marketing has now been released as an ebook with an extra chapter. Click on the link and see my thoughts but Amazon critics loved the original book.