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Marketing Ethics: Navigating The Fine Line Between Persuasion And Deception

A young man laughing while talking on his smartphone, sitting at an outdoor cafe table with a laptop and a glass of juice, discussing marketing ethics.

Marketing in its current form may have only lasted since the advent of the internet (and really, which industry still needs to be entirely pivoted by this new norm?

Still, the truth is that promotion in selling something has existed since immemorial. 

From merchants shouting about their best prices at the roadside to selling products or services and ideas, marketing is embedded in the DNA of our societies and how they function.

Of course, keeping this lineage in mind is essential when we become a marketer because, if marketing didn’t work or weren’t compatible with human wiring, there would be no need for it. 

Unfortunately, it’s also true that good marketing is inevitably bound with the idea of lousy marketing – a hodge-podge of oversold ideas, exaggerated claims, half-truths, and even straight deceptions. 

You don’t have to go far to see this today. Overblown Twitter threads masquerading as insight from people with no experience in the industry, the constant LinkedIn updates entrepreneurs use to fake some engagement, and YouTube ads promising inexperienced young professionals the chance to make money from their phones in a matter of minutes are all present.

With good marketing comes the need for an unspoken sort of ethics. But these ethics are rarely just here because they feel pleasant to follow, but because they work. Only builds long-form goodwill, reputation, and reliability by saying what you genuinely believe to be accurate, as opposed to what the algorithm suggests you should say.

In this post, we’ll discuss how to avoid becoming “that kind” of marketer. You’re better than that, after all:

Try To Avoid The Buzzwords

Game-changer, disruptive, cutting-edge, best-in-class, agile, next-gen, ROI-driven, paradigm-shift, you’ve likely heard all these from turtlenecked presenters offering the latest next revolution in Silicon Valley and beyond.

It would be best if you only browsed LinkedIn to see these terms and many more. Sure, sometimes they have meaning. Synergy, for example, means a blending of cooperation between two departments or priorities, allowing for optimal performance. To handwave every term as poor taste is only sometimes an accurate approach.

That said, it’s best to say less but to make sure it has substance than to offer a thousand illusory verbal tricks used to inspire people. Remember – marketing has innovated over the years, but so has the perception of consumers being marketed to. They can see right through buzzwords used to distract from the depth of the discussed topic. People can sometimes relate them to damaging stories that have come before them.

Always Take A Value-First Approach

An intelligent marketing method involves offering a value-first approach toward your promotional capacities. So, for example, you might offer real, diligent insight on your Twitter feed, talking about topics you have personal experience in, that you’re experimenting with, or directions you’re taking.

Then, the advice has actual personal expertise behind it all. It’s not just promises or solicitations. You’re offering insight or learning as a value-first approach. When an audience feels you’ve contributed something, the soft sell afterward feels much less exploitative. For example, YouTube creators will often take sponsorships in their educational videos. Still, as 80% of the content discusses the topic and gives you something fun to watch, the endorsement hardly feels exploitative. 

Always take a value-first approach.

Learn The Underpinnings Of Your Practice

Marketing may seem as simple as promising a great time or that your product can deliver. Sure, that’s the fundamental idea of what marketing is. But remember that marketing insight has had some years to develop now, so you deserve to operate at a higher level than the baseline.

That’s why reading some of. The best digital marketing books can be so helpful. They help you avoid making the most obvious mistakes and give you the tools to empower your thinking and move forward. This could involve learning how to tell stories with your brand narrative as opposed to just promising results and how to engage your audience with your marketing practice properly.

Marketing isn’t just a simple burden; it’s a business discipline. Don’t avoid getting stuck in, because thankfully, this topic is fascinating and cuts to the real heart of human behavior and perception. 

Be Mindful Of Your Narratives

It’s essential to be mindful of the narratives you’re putting out there. For example, we opened this article with the report that many marketers are simply trying to do anything to achieve engagement exploitatively. While there are certainly marketers like this, and there will most likely be forever, this picture is hardly nuanced.

Many marketers are interested professionals or entrepreneurs trying to survive a challenging market. Most aren’t out to trick or swindle you, even if they might exaggerate the core necessity of their product or service. Does your local barber offer “the best haircuts anywhere?” Most likely not, but this statement can be forgiven as confidence in their abilities. 

As you can see, even a relatively benign narrative we opened with doesn’t tell the whole story. If you’re not careful, it can be reductive and dismissive. Big statements and slogans can be memorable but remain mindful of their impact to avoid hidden surprises or disenfranchising others.

With this advice, you’re sure to avoid becoming “that kind” of marketer. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll find out exactly what kind of marketer you hope to be.

Remember, the disciplines are very different. If you promote a museum to improve attendance as part of a digital content job, then your tasks are much other than advertising your start-up to potential investors. 

When you define what marketing is and manage it appropriately, you can avoid falling into any other stereotype, be they “that kind” of marketing specialist or not. After all, people are likelier to listen to and trust individuals with their authoritative voice.

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