Is Selling Hope Manipulating The Customer?
Is this selling of hope the cynical exploitation and manipulation of buyers or a legitimate business practice?
It's a tough question.
Certainly selling hope will make the customer feel good (for a while anyway)
For anyone in despair, hope can be extremely valuable but selling hope that cannot deliver is also at the root of "get rich quick" schemes, dieting scams and magic pill rip-offs.
Hope sells not just in business. Barack Obama's election as the U.S. President has been put down to selling hope by many political commentators. No pun intended but hopefully the promises won't prove to be empty.
Forbes says that "Americans spent $11 billion in 2008 on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching and stress-management programs--13.6% more than they did back in 2005, according to Marketdata Enterprises, an independent Tampa-based research firm that tracks everything from adoption agencies to funeral homes. Latest forecast: 6.2% annual growth through 2012."
But it's not just self improvement. We've already covered cosmetics, weight loss and medical cures but to the list we can add dating / relationship advice, lotteries and even religion with its promise of salvation.
It seems that selling hope is big business and a major trigger for financial and emotional commitment.
Is Selling Hope Bad?
Hope is a feeling or emotion that you can have what you want, that things will turn out for the best.
It's interesting that the Ancient Greeks considered hope to be an evil and when Pandora first opened her box, she let out all the evils except hope, later to go back and let hope out as well.
But without hope there is despair and no belief that things can get better. No motivation to do anything.
For a moment stop and think of the world and the global problems - climate change and the potential devastation from the melting of the polar ice caps, nuclear proliferation to more countries and the political and social tension between Western cultures and the Muslim religion and states.
If you don't hope that climate change can be stopped and that devastation is inevitable, there is no motivation to give up the gas guzzler for the Toyota Prius.
Without hope there is no pressure to develop revolutionary health techniques like Christiaan Barnard's first heart transplant in 1967 or Alexander Fleming's work developing penicillin.
I see selling hope as good and one of the important aspects of the move The Secret is the belief that things can change, that things can improve. Of course it helps to take action but that's another story.
What's bad is selling hope when the hope is not backed up with results.
Selling Hope And Not Delivering
Unfortunately hope is often used to create promises that are broken.
The get rich quick scheme that makes you poorer despite taking all the action (it's only get rich quick for the promoter).
The weight loss promotion that makes you heavier and with a higher fat percentage.
The magic pill that doesn't make you better.
Cosmetics is interesting. I'd argue that if you feel more attractive, you probably are more attractive because of the changes to your personality rather than appearance.
So there can be some substance to a sales pitch based on hope without delivered the exact results (cosmetics may not make you as beautiful as the models used to promote them but may help a bit).
But it still means that selling hope is open for abuse by the cynical manipulators of your dreams and desires and the bigger the price ticket, the bigger the danger.
Buying a dating guide for $30 that doesn't work is one thing, investing your last $100,000 in a ponzi scheme based on promises of high returns for little risk is totally different.
We Need Hope
"What marketers sell is hope.
The reason is simple: people need more. We run out. We need it replenished. Hope is almost always in short supply.
The magical thing about selling hope is that it makes everything else work better, every day get better, every project work better, every relationship feel better. If you can actually deliver on the hope you sell, there will be a line out the door."
I agree with Seth, selling hope in marketing is fundamental and you can see it in the standard marketing advice.
A hairdresser doesn't sell the wash and cut but improved appearance and the hopes that attach to improved appearance.
Hope is the leading edge of many other emotions.
How Can You Sell On Hope (Or Recognise When Someone Else Is Selling On Hope)?
First there is the nature of the product.
Some products automatically translate into hope e.g. personal improvement.
Other products and services are much more tangible.
You buy a banana and you get a banana - although you may also be buying the hope of future health as one of your five a day.
You buy a car wash and you get a clean car.
You buy a desk and you get somewhere to work.
The second factor in selling hope is how the product is sold.
Hope sells through stories that go along the lines of:
"I'm just like you and perhaps in an even worse situation. I was so poor I sometimes had to beg for food to feed my family but now, after discovering Magic Pill X, I am a millionaire. I live in a beautiful, big house by the beach, I drive a Ferrari and my wife has a Range Range to take the kids to school and we've just come back from our fifth holiday of the year, three weeks in the Maldives."
"I'm just like you. I was overweight and even had the local neighbourhood kids calling me fatty but it wasn't through lack of trying. I tried every diet I could find and worked out several times a week until I was breathless and sweaty but I couldn't shift the excess weight. Then I discovered Magic Pill Y. The weight just fell off and now I have rock hard abs and I've shed the 75lbs of excess fat I've carried since I was a teenager. My life has been transformed and yours can be too."
While these are brief parodies, I'm sure you have seen the adverts, sales letters and videos that build on the buyer's desperate need to buy hope.
Of course you need proof that the promise of hope has substance and that's where the before-and-after pictures come in, the screen shots of bulging bank statements, endorsements from famous celebrities and customer testimonials confirming the miracle come in.
But these can be abused and even made up and that's why the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is clamping down on testimonials, endorsements and affiliate marketing.
Protecting Yourself From Buying Hope
First, do you need protection?
I do see hope as a positive force so selling hope is valid provided there is real substance behind the claims.
The adrenalin rush that comes from taking control and doing something can be carried forward to create genuine and long lasting improvement.
Some people do gain from self health, from diets, from beauty products and some even knock a few strokes off their golf game.
If the stakes are low, it is worth a risk. It only takes one idea that you take or shape to make a big difference.
If the stakes are higher, then you need to do your due diligence. If you spend your savings buying a sure thing franchise that crashes and burns based only on the franchisor's promises, you must accept most of the responsibility.
Check around, talk to other buyers, check on the Internet and look for positive reviews (the FTC rules will certainly make it easier to see which people have a financial incentive but don't dismiss the value. I take a lot of pride in my reviews (like Stomping The Search Engines) and for look for allegations of scams and rip-offs.
There are various consumer sites although again remember that some people like complaining and haven't succeeded because they haven't taken action.
Look at the guarantees offered.
The guarantee shows the confidence the seller has in the product. A lifetime guarantee is better than 12 months which is better than three months or one month.
Look at what the guarantee covers. Is it a satisfaction guarantee where you are the judge on whether you got value or is it a results guarantee?
What's the difference?
"If you are not satisfied with this product within the first three months of ownership, then return it and we will refund 100% of your money"
"If you don't lose at least 14lb in the first 28 days of using this diet, then contact us and we will refund 100% of your money"
The first is general, the second is a specific promise but look out for weasel clauses that demand that you prove you have taken action and followed the exact letter of the program.
What Do You Think About Selling Hope?
I am interested to know what you think about selling hope so please leave a comment.
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