Warning: This post is highly sensitive and may even be offensive for many everyday consumers.
Every day, we are exposed to thousands, perhaps millions of advertisement, marketing messages, brand stories, and other types of sales pitches.
It has become a part and parcel of our lives, to the point that we hardly notice a large majority of these messages. They just “vanish” from our sights as we go on with our day-to-day lives.
After all, we are in control of our minds, right? We are the ones who decide what we choose to buy, isn’t it?
Well, the sad fact is… a good marketer knows how to capture our attention and get us to listen to their sales pitch. A fantastic marketer does the exact same thing, only, it’s on a subconscious level…
By entering into our subconscious mind, tapping on certain emotional hot buttons, and inducing a sale. While we continue to believe we were in control the entire time.
You bet it is!
But here’s why it is absolutely necessary for both companies and individuals.
Are All Messages Coercive and Therefore Manipulative?
Let’s get the facts right first, for any business to survive, a core component of their survivability is having recurring sales.
Without a constant stream of sales coming in, operations will take a hit, and before you know it, the business winds up.
And just relying on consumers to make a buying decision, as noble as that sounds, is never a sustainable business strategy.
You need an active and reliable salesforce or at least a dependable marketing campaign that attracts consumers and encourages them to hand over their credit card.
In other words… your sales pitch must be persuasive. Persuasive enough to get them to take action and buy.
Which brings us to the issue on hand… at which point does this persuasiveness become considered manipulation?
At which point does this persuasiveness become considered manipulation?
Because the irony of persuasion is that, the most persuasive messages are often subtle, it stays hidden, creeping underneath the surface of conscious thinking. It cloaks its “pushiness” and instead budges the consumer to say yes.
The “yes” the marketer “planted” into their heads.
And if that isn’t considered manipulative, then what is?
Here’s the sad truth…
Having done sales for such a long time now, you’ll begin to realise most consumers don’t know what they want. Worse, many don’t mean what they speak.
Here’s an example…
On the one hand, they tell the part-time boy handing out flyers that they had already taken their lunch. When they’re searching for a specific new eatery to spend the afternoon there.
Or in some extreme cases, they lie at point-blank to the shop vendor that they saw a cheaper deal at another store. Hoping their con would win them a big discount or a free gift on top of it.
Ultimately, we’re constantly in a Persuasion Battle each and every day, either as the buyer or as the seller.
It is therefore in the interest of both parties to improve their persuasive abilities so you are always in the best position to make a decision.
For us as a copywriting service provider, our goal is, therefore, to help our clients apply persuasiveness in their marketing messages. But we need to ensure that this is done ethically.
Manipulation Bites Back
Unfortunately, in our line of work, we’ve seen our fair share of unscrupulous and immoral manipulation tactics marketers, salespeople, and politicians use to gain an unfair advantage.
In fact, with digital marketing growing in popularity, there was even a documentary film on Netflix, The Great Hack, that dived into the topic of personal data, and how it was manipulated to achieve certain political marketing campaigns in the US and UK.
But the truth is, manipulation has always existed, in different forms and styles throughout history. Perhaps worst of all in the US where the direct response copywriting industry is at its peak.
None more so than the granddaddy of them all, Agora Financial LLC which has recently been sued for by the Federal Trade Commission for their misleading and phoney scams.
To the novice copywriter, Agora has been seen as one of the big boys of the industry. Anyone who’s anyone would have written a copy or been on their consultative board at a point or another.
“If you want to be great at copywriting, go and read their sales letters,” that’s what you will hear.
Only when you do, you find yourself questioning how is it possible that people are falling for these scams. And worse… whether copywriting is just a bunch of manipulative tricks put together to “cheat” the un-informed or misguided individuals.
Extract the Good. Discard the Bad.
While these tactics can earn a quick buck, any legitimate business would want a strategy that is in for the long term.
Thankfully, we can extract the good aspects and choose to use these secrets ethically.
And that means studying the copy and understanding why they worked so successfully, to the point, their victims never once questioned the authenticity of the message.
Sure, they made claims that are unverifiable. But upon closer inspection, you’ll naturally agree that the entire message is persuasive. It hardly feels like there is any form of manipulation whatsoever.
The consumer was just making a logical and rational decision to improve his or her life.
Here’s the breaking truth…
That’s the sign of great copywriting, and the very reason why in the wrong hands, copywriting can be a lethal weapon, as proven so evidently.
Humans and Our Emotional Flaws
For better or for worse, as human beings, we are emotional creatures. Even the most heartless and sinister person you know isn’t immune to emotional manipulation. In fact, many of them are master manipulators themselves.
Adolf Hitler hammered on the suppressive feelings the Germans were feeling post World War 1, till they rose up in retaliation. To win back their rights.
Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda painted the vision of the Islamic world in crisis to their followers and listed one enemy after another that spur their terroristic behaviours.
Today, many people view the current US president, Donald Trump, as a manipulator himself, Yale University even published an article by a blog contributor stating various reasons to support this conjecture.
But when you begin to sit down and connect the dots, you may start to see the bigger picture that bounded them together… human emotions.
Each of these master manipulators knew how to drive the point they wanted to their audience, to the point, these followers were willing to give up everything. (You can’t go further than dying for a cause, as al-Qaeda succeeded with their converts)
Now, suppose we could use this same concept and integrate it ethically into our sales messages? How powerfully would that be for businesses?
The Basis of Effective Sales Copywriting
As you can see from our website, we have a wide range of copywriting services, each to fulfil a different need and purpose.
Some agencies lump everything into a single page, partly to save time, but in most cases, because they want the client to inquire about their service offering first.
Once they have them on the phone, the sales agent can go on full throttle and trap the unsuspecting “victim” into a close.
It’s a common sales tactic used by companies in almost any industry. And it’s becoming increasingly effective in the digital age as the standard sales process becomes less and less personal. The human interaction is slowly disappearing and consumers are forced to consult chatbots and other faceless robots.
Suddenly, that warm and understanding voice becomes a welcome relief. It’s hardly surprising then, that they allow themselves to be cox into a sales pitch.
Good strategy but it doesn’t count as being persuasive (or manipulative) and frankly, you don’t need terrific copywriting for such a tactic. Yet, more and more businesses are moving into this direction.
Hence, we knew we had to interject this process and “manipulate” our way into creating an offer that is so irresistible it ploughs right through our client’s emotional hot buttons.
A “Manipulative Offer”
We created a simple website writing package that solves the most critical aspect of building a brand new website…
Having nothing to talk about or put up on their site!
After investing thousands of dollars on a web designer to build the perfect website, there isn’t any text or content to go with the wonderful colour choices and images.
So, to assist these new website owners, we created a writing package for 5-page, 10-page, and 15-page websites of between 50-300 words a page. Not too many words since most web designs are image-heavy and less text-focused.
Then we thought to ourselves…
What about the entrepreneurs who don’t want to invest too much into web design as a simple yet professional website is all they need?
And thus a second package, the web design and content writing package, was dispatched to give them a great alternative.
It solves all the challenges new business owners need to tackle while giving them a solution they otherwise wouldn’t have known about.
But it does come at the expense of “stealing” the other agencies product offering. Simply because there was a gap they couldn’t resolve for their clients.
The question is…
Is this considered a manipulative sales tactic or does it count as being completely ethical?