It’s an age-old debate…

It goes all the way back to the days of the snake oil salesmen…  And well before.

There are so many variations on it.  The Used Care Salesman.  The “Internet Marketer.”  And so on, and so on…

There’s a cultural narrative about sales people and marketers.

They lie to persuade you to do things that are not in your best interest.

In fact, I recently heard someone I really respect say, “If it’s being marketed, I’m less likely to believe it’s a good product.”

And if you want to build the case, I can give you all sorts of evidence…

Exhibit A…  Exhibit B…  all the way to Exhibit X, Y, and Z.

And we could keep going.

I’ve met a TON of marketers who ARE liars.  Who believe the only way to get rich in this game is through the kind of manipulation that tricks gullible people into doing things that are not in their best interests.

Some even get really rich, putting this belief into practice.

I saw an interesting back-and-forth on Facebook the other day.  I decided to stay out of it, but I’ll share enough to make the point.

Two well-respected copywriters each have their own Facebook groups.

One basically says, “Do whatever you gotta do to get the money.”

The other calls him on that, and says, “Find something valuable to sell, something that enriches your customers’ lives, and then do your best to persuade them to put it to work in their lives.”

Both are successful.  Both have made good money as copywriters.

So which is right?

The long games of contribution and exploitation…

First, let’s talk about exploitation.  That’s a good catch-all term for the kind of marketing or business practices that manipulate people in a negative way, to a selfish end.

Exploitation can work for a long time.  Especially if you’re skillful at it, it won’t catch up to you for a while.  You could even get rich.

But you’re stepping on fingers all the way up the ladder of success.  Who is going to catch you when you fall?

Another thing that happens here is that companies rife with exploitation tend to push out anyone with better senses.  So you end up building a culture of exploitation, where any people who may have been the saving grace of the company feel unwelcome, and are either pushed out or leave of their own accord.

This is a system that ends up eating itself, often culminating in a disastrous implosion.

Look no further than the recent Wells Fargo sales scandal for an example.  A lot of people learned to game the system by opening accounts in customers’ names, in order to juice their own sales figures.  The culture rewarded this as good performance, and anyone who didn’t do it was seen as under-performing.  This went on for years, and grew widespread.  Until one day, it all blew up.

Exploitation can often get you ahead faster in the short run, but it is not sustainable.

Compare that to a relentless dedication to contribution.  What if you build a company based on the shared goal of enriching customers’ lives?  Based on meeting them wherever they are at, and through your products and services, taking them to a better place?  On helping them build a bigger, brighter future?

And then what if you took anyone who was all about exploitation, and pushed them out of that company?  Until you end up with an entire culture and team of people who are there contributing and making customers’ lives better…

Then, the marketing and selling is about evangelism.  About introducing someone to a better way.  About showing possibilities that weren’t visible before.

Contribution begets contribution, and those businesses grow fast.  They don’t make the news as much, because they don’t follow the “if it bleeds, it leads” rule.  Hollywood doesn’t make too many movies about nice salespeople and business builders.

But that’s what the world’s best companies focus on.  Contribution.

And it comes through in the marketing, because it’s built into the vision of the company.

The gray area of ethical persuasion…

Now, let’s take a minute and assume you’re in one of those companies that truly tries to do right by your clients.  A company with a culture of contribution, that makes great, enriching products that deliver on your promises.

Even if that’s 100% the case, you will have unhappy customers.  You will have customers that have bad or less-than-ideal experiences with the product or service.

If you’re 100% honest about those shortcomings and the customers who have bad experiences, you’re likely to drive some potential customers away.  Customers who would otherwise have had their lives enriched by your products.  Customers who would be better off doing business with you than not.

So: where’s the ethics there?

Do you tell the truth, and drive them away, never to experience the benefits of your product?

Or do you use advertising license, present a good or ideal case scenario, tell the good story, and persuade the maximum number of people to try your product, and focus on taking care of anyone who is dissatisfied for any reason?

Even the most ethical marketers usually choose the latter option — and I think that’s a good thing.

One example…

My copywriting education.  When I was introduced to copywriting, it was with the promise of a great income, even great riches.  (And no, it wasn’t through an AWAI sales letter.)

Compare that to Bill Bonner, founder of Agora, who started a speech at AWAI by saying that if you want to start writing copy, you should put a loaded revolver in one desk drawer, a bottle of whiskey in the other, and shove a pen into your wrist and start to bleed all over the page.

And that was a metaphor.  The more realistic downsides involve running your own business, having a horrible employee (yourself), dealing with bookkeeping when you can’t stand it, having a ton of failures and headaches on your road to success, realizing it never gets that much easier, dealing with massive resistance in the creative process, and so on, and so on.

If anybody who sells copywriting education were 100% honest about it, there’d be far fewer copywriters in the world.  I might still work in a customer service call center, having the life sucked out of me.

I’m glad someone told me about copywriting by emphasizing the good, and downplaying the bad.  It’s sent me on a trajectory into that business and now beyond.

If they’d been selling me a total lie, it would’ve been another story.  But because they were pointing me to a brighter tomorrow, dealing with a little dark night along the way is tolerable.

So…  “All marketers are liars!”  True or false?

False, but only because of the word “all.”

There are a ton of people who run the gamut between perpetual gray area players and flat out scammers.

If you’re a scammer, go to hell.  Or, better yet, find a way to make your customers’ lives better, and focus your talents on that.

But if you’re truly dedicated to enriching the lives of everyone who buys from you, consider how you can increase your ethical persuasive powers to bring more people on board.

And if you’re building a company, make sure that’s who you’re putting on your team.  Be intolerant of exploitation, and reinforce contribution at every step.

You’ll be amazed what a difference it makes — both inside your company, and for every customer or client you interact with.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr