Welcome, reader! This marks the very first issue of The Mmm…letter that you can experience through your earholes! Give my voice a shot and let me know what you thought in the comments.
This column teaches me more than it teaches you. When I sit down to evaluate my beliefs regarding the profession of marketing and its routine practices, I challenge my former self. Today, I wish to revisit what it means to be an ethical marketer.
In earlier pieces, I dwell on marketing ethics. You see me ponder writing a book and pulling firmly on virtuous threads. I gravitate toward these topics because few marketers discuss them. We are instead busy hunting for tools, tactics, tips, and other t-words. We fixate on conversions and traffic, and pay little mind to whether our actions bring us steps closer to marketing hell—and marketing hell is where you spend an eternity recording cringey TikToks for Hitler’s GenZ campaign.
To avoid marketing hell, I once imagined some X-wrong-things-to-do, but I no longer believe such a definitive list can exist. Instead, I’m going to share the one and perhaps only thing that separates good marketers from the ones that end up dancing to Wagner remixes on TikTok, and it’s quite simple. But first, let’s revisit precisely what it is we do here...
In any marketplace you will find two parties: one in possession of goods, and the other in need of such. Post-barterism, both parties deal with intermediary value, money, cold hard cash baby. As a consequence, the seller wants money, and the buyer wants a solution to their problem; econ 101.
In a fair market, the seller cannot force the buyer’s hand, so what does she do instead? She goads the buyer into a choice, and more directly into taking a leap of faith. In that last point lies our linchpin.
Unspoken in commercial exchanges is a mutual understanding that both parties often refuse to communicate. The seller knows there is some chance the product fails to meet the buyer’s needs. The buyer knows there is some chance the product meets their expectations. These probabilities vary between seller and buyer. And the primary job of a marketer is to instill in the buyer a high confidence in the product, high enough that they make a purchase, high enough to take a leap of faith.
All of our tactics and gimmicks aim to raise the confidence in the mind of the buyer. As marketers, the moment we knowingly inflate the buyer’s confidence above our own is when we start firing up our TikTok accounts. I believe this is the one line that separates do-gooders and those willing to risk their immortal souls. Let’s look at an example: imagine your first day in mattress sales.
And your first day is Memorial day—no time to train. Customers stream in all day looking for a deal. They ask you for recommendations, firmness levels, the latest tech, warranties, and about that one model that prevents a resting wine glass from spilling as their wife jumps on the mattress like a deranged chimpanzee.
You have no answers and frankly you find the chimpanzee comment offensive. You lack familiarity with your products, so you’re left with two options: express your ignorance or start the bullshit. In both cases, you have very low confidence in whether a given mattress will satisfy the customer—one version of you answers, “yes, and there’s more!” to every request. The other version of you admits ignorance, but expresses your genuine desire to help. This latter version of you will close very few sales on what is basically the biggest mattress-buying day of the year; and that’s okay, you do not deserve them.
You lack the requisite knowledge to help customers reach an appropriate level of confidence. The bullshit version of you will get some sales, and you may even send some customers home happy. But if you’re at all like me, and I bet you are, you know that outcomes do not decide the morality of an action
So there it is. If you work for a company that makes an awful product, everything you do will feel like marketing bullshit because you must instill in your buyers a confidence you do not possess—you smile through your teeth.
If you otherwise serve an organization that works hard for its customers and delivers quality results to the best of its ability, every tactic feels justified. You will want your customers to feel the same way about your solution as you do, that makes your job morally easy, even if tactically difficult. Understanding the limits of your product and communicating that honestly with your customer is the purest way to market, and the purest way to help others.