three crumpled up paper balls on a grey surface

When I finished my masters in marketing I was so excited about what the industry had to offer, I was in awe of the new digital marketing landscape that was unfolding and how measurable and quantifiable it was,  and most of all, how accessible to even the smallest of businesses.

As time went by, something started to not feel right for me. I grew tired of using yucky marketing tactics to get the results my clients wanted to see. And as I took a hiatus from the business to go back to school, I thought I had somehow failed. I just don’t have what it takes to make it in the industry, I’m not strong enough, I’m not cut-throat enough, I’m too sensitive.

Not long ago I was in an online discussion in a tech forum and someone said “F*ck all marketers”  and I was stunned. In this particular setting people knew me for my design and development work and didn’t exactly know I have a marketing background. Many joined in and agreed that marketers are simply the worst and ruin everything by making people pay too much for things they don’t need or want.

I suddenly found myself defending the profession, and talking about the marketing I learned in school, the marketing I had in mind when I originally started. And as the conversation progressed I realized there are some myths about marketing that the general public and even us marketers believe about the industry and that shape the way we behave.

We all fell for these myths about what marketing is and isn’t. They are harmful, and they need to go away

1. Marketing is a zero-sum game

So many times I’ve heard this line from colleagues and clients. Marketing is about winning. Marketing is war. In marketing you are in the ring against your competitors and your users. Our industry is filled with war terminology, we talk about targets and campaigns and that just further perpetuates the myth.

When done ethically, marketing is about building long term relationships that provide a win-win scenario. Many marketers recognize the importance of seeing consumers as people, and the importance of creating a sustainable market for a product or service. Burning through your audience by forcing a sale that goes against their best interest or creates a feeling of regret is a sure way to diminish your brand equity.

The marketing concept is both a view of exchanges and a set of practices intended to create sustained value equitably for a set of involved parties (individuals, firms or organizations).

Based on a definition elaborated by executive committee of AFM (French Marketing Association), 2015

By aligning their interests with those of their audiences, marketers and businesses can grow organically and improve their long term customer value.

2. Marketing is about manipulation

This is a very common myth that lives in the minds of the general public just as much as it does in the minds of us marketers. And let me be very clear, by calling this a myth I’m not implying that there is no manipulation in marketing, there are countless brands and practitioners using the shadiest of tricks to get a sale or a KPI. But it’s not what marketing is about.

Ethical marketers, and savvy marketers everywhere know that people are weary of these manipulative tactics, that many of us see it a mile away and that consumers tend to think less of brands that use these manipulative tactics on them and they’ve been known to backfire.

Consumers may even develop a resistance to marketing efforts because they are afraid of being manipulated.

Hubert Gatignon & Emmanuelle Le Nagard (2015) “Manipulating Consumers is not Marketing” Journal of Marketing Behavior

Ask yourself, when you see a 9.99 pricing does your mind immediately jump to thoughts of quality? or do you perceive the product as sleazy and “cheap”? Not affordable, but cheap.  Consumers are getting better at seeing through manipulation and good marketers know that these tactics end up backfiring.

3. Marketing is a monolith

This is what the industry is like. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. It’s easy for us who work in the industry to see people around us practicing marketing in an unethical way. To get demands from clients to behave unethically and do whatever it takes to get the numbers. And therefore it’s easy for us to believe that this is the one true way.

In reality, the ethical marketing crowd is alive and well. There are lots of agencies, brands and solo practitioners committed to marketing ethically, to using our powers for good and to do our work in a way that benefits businesses, people who use their products or services, society and the planet.

The fact that the perception is so pervasive should serve as a call to action for the marketing profession, both academics and practitioners, to be proactive in changing these perceptions

Hubert Gatignon & Emmanuelle Le Nagard (2015) “Manipulating Consumers is not Marketing” Journal of Marketing Behavior

We end up believing all these myths ourselves and we let them guide our practice and shape our industry. It’s time we see them for what they are and make them go away. Marketing doesn’t have to be shady, doesn’t have to be harmful and doesn’t have to be soul deadening. We can do better.


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