401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

The dark side of marketing: Where do you stand?

Marketing is a force. Like any other force, it can be used for good or ill. There are many people who say that marketing itself is evil. Not so.

Marketing is only evil when the power of marketing is used to misrepresent or hide the truth.

I supposed I could stop here, because that really is the essence of it. But I’ll go a little further to and provide an example.

Let’s say you’re selling a pretty decent stereo headset, online, and that your headset has a 1/4″ (6.3mm) plug – the kind they call a “phone plug,” because it used to be used for those antique telephone switchboards, where there were ladies sitting in a row, connecting one party with another party by plugging plugs into jacks (holes). These “phone plug” connectors are too large to plug into today’s circuit boards, so most headsets now use a 1/8″ (3.5mm) or “mini-phone” plug. Your 1/4″ plug is behind the times, and you know it.

Your headsets are also ergonomically designed and very comfortable. This is a product advantage.

There are a number of ways you could present the product. We’ll start with the most dishonest – the darkest – and progress to the most honest.

  1. Your product page goes into great detail about the ergonomic ear cushions, but never mentions the plug. You do not take returns. Your goal is to sell as many headsets as you can; after the person gets the headset, they will either be able to use it because they will be plugging directly into a 1/4″ plug, or they will have to get an adapter (you think:$3 at Walmart, what’s the big deal), or they will just have to trash or give away your headset. You don’t care. 
  2. Your product page mentions, in a bullet, that the headsets have a “standard” plug. Nowhere does it say that the plugs are the older 1/4″ standard. Most of your copy focuses on the superior ergonomic ear cushions. Again, you don’t support returns, and you don’t care if they’re misled about the headset plug. 
  3. Same as above, except you do support returns. Which means you have a very unprofitable business, as at least half your headsets will come back to you. 
  4. Your product page mentions that the plug is a “standard 1/4″ plug. You do not mention anything about the fact that most of today’s systems only accept the smaller, 1/8” plug. You say you support returns, but the small print says, “After 5 days from date of purchase, all sales are final; no refunds will be granted.” Of course, it usually takes about 5 days for the headsets to arrive, so the customer is basically out of luck, to put it nicely. 
  5. Your product page mentions that the plug is a 1/4″ plug. It also says that if you are plugging into an 1/8″ jack, you will need an adapter. You accept returns. 
  6. Your product page says that the plug is 1/4″, and shows a picture of both a 1/4″ plug and the newer 1/8″ plug, side-by-side. The caption says, “You’ll want to check which jack you’re plugging into – 1/4″ or 1/8″. If the jack is 1/8″, you’ll need an adapter. We can send one with the headsets for an additional $1.00, or you can buy one at Wal-Mart and other stores for about $3.00.” You accept returns, no conditions. [NOTE: It’s Friday morning, just after this was published, and I’ve already gotten two emails saying, “I can’t believe that you didn’t mention offering an adapter for an additional $1.00!” Maybe I should have put the “you’ll need an adapter” copy in bold.-kz] 
  7. Your product page says everything in #6, but also has excellent photos showing the obvious differences between plugs (like this one). 
  8. Your product page has everything in #6 and #7, but also has a link to a very helpful page (like this or this or this – scroll down to see the pictures) that shows all the different kinds of connectors and establishes you as an expert on the subject. 

Most companies operate at the #5 level, which means that you have plenty of opportunities to be more helpful – and make more sales – than your competitors. By simply adding helpful content, you can establish yourself as an honest vendor. When your customer buys those headphones and can plug them in and use them right out of the box – because you were up front about the connector – your company will end up on their “trusted vendor” list.

Next time they need something similar, or a friend asks for a recommendation, you will get the business.

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