The Dark Side of Marketing
August 20, 2006 by Bernard Leong
Marketing has a strong propensity to lead any entrepreneur to the dark side. Brian Norris, defined marketing to be an “ongoing process of moving people closer to making a decision to purchase, use, follow, refer, upload, download, obey, reject, conform, become complacent to someone else’s products, services or values. Simply, if it doesn’t facilitate a “sale” then it’s not marketing.” Of course, like any other processes in entrepreneurship, there is also a dark side to marketing. We will outline some of those abuses of marketing which you should try to avoid.
Marketing is an essential component of any company. If you have a product or service with high quality on your hands but you don’t know how to market that, your business will not take off. Similarly, if your product is faulty and your service is crap though you are very good at marketing, your business will also not grow as a result. These are the two extremes that most entrepreneurs should avoid. In reality, you should start marketing your products or services when it’s 70% done, or what I like to call the beta phase. As a matter of fact, marketing provides the easiest route to the dark side if an entrepreneur is not careful about his credibility.
Here are a few streaks that I consider to be the dark side of marketing. Ultimately, the key rule to business is credibility. It has nothing to do with whether you are evil or not. If your customers don’t trust what you say, you cannot make the sales. If you market something bad to them, they will find it hard to listen to you again. Unless you are like Steve Jobs, who can create a reality distortion field in his apple keynotes, don’t try to evangelize without knowing what you are trying to market. On that note, Apple is successful in having good and innovative products backed with strong evangelistic marketing.
- Marketing is a tool and not an end: Marketing is a tool for you to create awareness of your business to your potential customers. It cannot become an end by itself. If it becomes an end, it has the propensity to become a sham, for example, fraudulent multi-layer marketing (MLM), pyramid and ponzi schemes. These are the consequences when marketing becomes a tool. For example, fraudulent MLM schemes are identified by high entrance fees or requirements to purchase expensive inventories without the following criteria satisfied: no authentic product or service and everything is based on word of trust. Most people want to take the easy way out and they end up being conned in the process for these shams.I have seen sites that promote internet marketing with no relevance to what it should help the entrepreneur. Instead it preaches creation of sham sites to generate a big user base. For those who want to work in marketing, it is important that you must not fall into these kind of traps.
- “The customer is always right” : If you have read Christensen’s “Innovator’s Dilemma”, big and matured companies have the tendency to ignore disruptive in order to pander to their customers. Most of the time, the marketing team, with no knowledge of the rival product, will dismiss potential competitors, until the rival product becomes a threat. Their rationale is that we should continue our marketing efforts to sustain existing customers and the abuse of that is pandering too much to your customers. They have settled to the familiar grounds based on their previous marketing strategies.
- Evangelize when you have something and not nothing: Please evangelize when you have a product. I often see entrepreneurs in Singapore have no products or prototypes that can prove to me that they have something there. They evangelize about how great their technology is. These marketing kids, I call them, will falter upon the expert’s questioning. That is not to say investors are not fooled as well. If you want to know whether something will work, do engage the expert and get some opinion. You need not agree to that, but you must see through the marketing smokescreen created by the entrepreneur.
- Compromising credibility with marketing: Marketing teams have the tendency of compromising the credibility. Here is how it can be done. If the product does not have function X or the service does not include some conditions, don’t claim that there is one. The banking industry has this tendency to do that. For example, I have seen marketing teams in even prominent retail banks try to market their loans to be lesser interest in the credit card. They don’t tell you what is in between the lines, particularly, how fast the interest built up. As a result of bad marketing and not telling the truth, I did not take up any other service from the bank after that. Bad marketing can lead to loss of customer confidence even for big companies.
It is important for the entrepreneur to be cautious with people who market things well. If you are not, you might pick the wrong management team, the wrong partner and definitely the wrong companies that will screw your business up. Learning to see the dark side of marketing is a good way to protect youself and your business.
Guy Kawasaki, The Art of Evangelism
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About The Author
Bernard Leong - Co-Founder
Dr Bernard Leong is currently in Vistaprint as a technology manager, where he manages an engineering team and builds new products for emerging markets. His former entrepreneurial stints include CTO and co-founder of Chalkboard where he has architected the platform for location based advertising across web and mobile, and also an early stage investor in Thymos Capital with Lunch Actually, Padlet and iHipo. His accolades include the Young Professional of the Year Award for the Singapore Computer Society 2010 and Outstanding Young Alumni for National University of Singapore 2007. His expertise includes technology and social media. Currently, Bernard also serves as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with INSEAD Business School and taught courses in entrepreneurship in NTU.Read other posts by Bernard Leong