Great marketing is honest. Not fair.
Ian Lurie Aug 24 2010
Lisa Barone’s post today about a tax on business bloggers, and the squawking and flapping that ensued thereafter, got me thinking about ‘fair’ versus ‘honest’. Especially in the world of marketing.
In marketing, ‘fair’ doesn’t exist
I find that when folks start talking about ‘fair’, what they mean is ‘fair for me and mine.’ Or maybe ‘easy’.
‘Fair’ is relative: I’m a cyclist. I drive a Toyota Prius. So raising gas prices to $5/gallon and doubling the size of bicycle lanes seems perfectly fair to me. You, on the other hand, are getting ready to let loose a tirade of car-loving American outrage in the comments section.
I’ve had potential clients tell me I was ‘unfair’ because my prices were too high for them. While I sympathize (I’d love to buy a Fisker Karma, but it’s out of my price range), it has nothing to do with ‘fair’. It’s about the value I deliver, and whether it’s worth it to you.
God, I’m starting to sound like a Republican. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are Republicans…
Anyway, in marketing, don’t look for fair. Marketing is not about fair. It’s about crushing every other competitor in the room in horrifying, brutal fashion, while you all smile at each other.
In marketing, ‘honest’ is the only way to go
Then there’s ‘honest’. Honest is a whole other lump of beeswax.
Good marketing is always honest.
By definition, good marketing helps people choose the best products/services for them through clear, compelling communications. It’s not about fooling people into buying crap. It’s not even about fooling people into buying great stuff they don’t really want.
I know what you’re going to say: ‘Honest’ is subjective. It’s relative. There’s no one ‘honest’.
I beg to differ. When someone lies, however artfully, you know i. Remember “I did not have sex with that woman!”? How about “No new taxes”? Or that SEO ‘professional’ who says they guarantee a #1 ranking in 2 weeks?
They’re lying. You know it.
Great marketing doesn’t lie. That’s why it’s so hard to market lousy products. “Our product doesn’t suck as much as you think” isn’t terribly compelling.
I’m not preaching this as some great principled person, by the way. I’ve shut down my honesty detector often enough, trying to help clients market utterly worthless products because I either liked the client personally or was flattered they even knew I existed.
But it still wasn’t about some relative definition of ‘honest’. And, more often than not, I used the word ‘fair’ to justify my work. “It’s only fair that they get a shot at the market,” I’d tell myself. Oops.
The internet is not an excuse
By the way, selling online doesn’t give you a pass to be a dishonest piece of crap, either. People who steal content, lie about products and services or deceive consumers into providing their personal information don’t get a pass just because they’re on the web.
Internet marketing needs to be honest, too.
So, repeat “Great marketing is honest. Not fair.” 10 times every morning. It’ll help you as a consumer and a marketer.
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More