That’s what we hear out there a lot, don’t we?
“You’re doing your business wrong — and only I know what to do to make it better.”
“You need to learn how to have adventures — let me show you how.”
“You’re introverted/extroverted/highly-sensitive/socially-anxious/fear-riddled/chronically-uncool. But it’s ok. I can fix you.“
We call it “Aspirational Marketing” and it is fast becoming a nasty, dirty little term. But is it really filled with all the ick we high-and-mighty are heaping on it? Does it deserve to be riddled with so many critical grumblings? I mean, what’s so wrong with wanting to learn how to be better? More? Different? And what’s so wrong with being the person who offers solutions?
I mean, nobody’s perfect, right? I’m fairly certain that there is a LOT wrong with me. So why not just come right out and say it:
There’s something wrong with you and I would like to sell you something that might help.
See, there’s not actually anything wrong with that. The wrong part is in all the convincing. The cajoling. The piles and piles of psychological hot buttons and triggers pressed and pulled to convince you that you have a problem that actually needs fixing. The ick lies where marketers tap into our deepest, darkest fear response and take your money regardless of whether the thing they are selling will ACTUALLY help you or not.
There are a lot of marketers out there that I really just loathe. Popular ones. Some of you even know who you are. And until recently, I pretty much just went with my gut on why these people rubbed me the wrong way – but I always had a nagging curiosity as to why some people rubbed me the wrong way. Was it jealousy? No. I like rich people just fine. Was it their content? Sometimes, but since I never wanted to give them any of my money, I really have no idea what their content looks like. Was it branding? Don’t think so. Since I brand shit for a living, I can look past the veneer pretty easily.
And then it struck me.
The people I can’t stand have one thing in common: When I read their brand, all I see is all the things they are telling me I’m not. And beyond that – I see all the things that they are telling you that you’re not. And that you should pay through the nose to become some bigger, better, faster, hotter version of you. And that pisses me off.
Let’s talk specifically about business programs out there. See, you may not know business. And you may need to learn. But does that mean that you should shell out a pile of cash that you can’t afford for the privilege? Absolutely not.
We are incredibly fortunate to live in extraordinary times where education is more democratized than ever. The shear volume of free and inexpensive learning out there is mind-blowing. But there’s a hole in it. And that hole is what throngs of marketers are taking advantage of. That hole is the simple fact that you don’t know what to believe or who to listen to. And in the absence of someone to guide you, it’s next to impossible to know where to begin, and/or how to filter out all the bullshit.
So how do you decide where and how to learn?
You look for trust. For social proof. For some indicator that other people have gotten value from Brand X. You read testimonials. You look at follower counts. You listen to the noise of those that follow Brand X, and you think to yourself, “How could all those people be wrong?”
Easy. It’s called a critical mass. A critical mass is the point at which a movement stops picking up speed through innovation and intrigue and instead just gets bigger and bigger on it’s own. The actual content matters less and less and the packaging matters more and more. And in the online marketing world, a critical mass is actually not that hard to achieve, and is ridiculously easy to fake.
How many of you have asked a friend to write a testimonial for something? Asked for a share? Or a tweet? How many stories have we seen about the rising trend of buying followers on Facebook or Twitter? A few well-placed Facebook ads and you are off to the races. What if you hired someone to do nothing but outreach like this for you? How fast could you hit critical mass? Fast. Very fast. Too fast. The sad truth is that you can buy Internet fame, and many do. Some in big, blatant banner-ad ways and some in subtle, re-tweeting ways.
The point is that the critical mass is too easily and too often smoke and mirrors. Do you need high production value, or would you rather have a lower price tag? Do you need to feel like you are a part of something big? Or do you want to create something big?
How many times have you talked to someone who bought a big fancy Brand X course for a few THOUSAND dollars, and they say things like, “Meh? The content was just ok, but the networking made it worth it…”?
When I hear this, I can’t help but think, “I could have bought a LOT of dinners and drinks and coffees for people with those thousands of dollars, and that would have afforded me the opportunity to meet and connect with both influencers and ideal clients alike.”
What if, instead of dropping that cash on a course you barely looked at, you spent some time figuring out who would most benefit from your offer and you sent them a gift?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem AT ALL with charging fair value for what you do. Nor do I have any problem AT ALL with investing in your business or with teaching or taking courses. You absolutely should be doing those things. My problem is in selling one thing and providing another. Especially when the ‘another’ is not worth anywhere near the supposed value of the thing you were selling to start with. Extra especially when you promise a result only to deliver halfway [or less] and sell the *real* thing all over again at the end.
So what should marketers be doing that they aren’t? Glad you asked. This is my short list.
1. Screen participants for whatever you offer. Not everything is right for everyone. And not everyone is ready for what you’re selling. Selling people things they have to go into debt for is gross. Stop it already. [Tweet]
2. Sell the right thing. If your course is going to be an invaluable networking opportunity, but probably includes learning that many users might not need. Say that. [Tweet]
3. Listen when people criticize you. Contrary to popular belief, criticism is not always a bad thing. Let it make you better. Just because you’re bigger, doesn’t always make you smarter. [Tweet]
4. Drop your fucking ego. What you teach is about the people you teach it to. Full stop. [Tweet]
5. Do what’s right for them. If you can offer a payment plan or a scholarship. Do it. As long as your rent is paid and you aren’t giving away the farm, goodwill goes a lot farther than greed. [Tweet]
6. Quality above all. Don’t ship it until it’s great. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be great. Repackaging anything makes me want to puke in my mouth. [Tweet]
7. Get off the damn bandwagon already. Not everyone needs a podcast. Or a video archive. Or a blog, for that matter. Deliver content in the way that will connect best with your people and that you can get really excited about. [Tweet]
8. If someone is doing it better, let them. Find your own sandbox to play in. [Tweet]
9. Be honest. If a product flops. Say it flopped. Explore it. Figure out why. Be a real person and ask for help. Isn’t that whole ‘being a person’ thing pretty much why we got into this business in the first place? [Tweet]
10. Stop incentivizing bad behavior. Affiliate programs are fine – until you offer sales bonuses in the thousands of dollars. People will do some shady shit for thousands of dollars. Instead, why not incentivize good behavior. Like, “For every ten sales, I will give away a scholarship to one participant at random.” [Tweet]
Whether we realize it or not, we are living in a virtual wild west. We are the settlers. The pioneers.
WE are the forefathers of a brand new economy. It is entirely up to us to create the rules that everyone follows from this point forward. And right now, way too many of us are operating under the old rules of the corporate economy we are all running from.
So how do we fix that? We connect with people as people. We drop the gloss and the perfection and the pretense and we do better. We pay it forward. We help each other. We tell the truth.