Are you a victim of narcissistic marketing?
That’s when a marketing and copywriting strategy is based on how the marketer prefers to be marketed to, rather than exploring what works with the target audience. This happens all the time with entrepreneurs and small-business owners who create their own promotions, but it’s even worse when professional marketers offer narcissistic marketing advice.
The first warning sign is when people speak in absolutist terms without qualification. If there’s no “it depends on the market” or “this works for lawyers in the Midwest but not on everyone, everywhere,” be wary.
This is a good indication you’re staring into the deep, still water of marketing narcissism. And if you become transfixed with your own reflection when encountering that pool of bad advice because it matches your own personal preferences, you’re about to become a victim, too.
Some aspects of sales and marketing are universal, and those are based on human psychology. So it’s no surprise that the scariest forms of narcissistic marketing ignore the fundamentals of human nature based on an idealistic notion that “it shouldn’t be that way because I personally don’t like it.”
Narcissistic Marketing is Rampant
I’d rather not single anyone out on this, since I see narcissistic marketing advice just about every day throughout the marketing blogosphere. But there’s one particular article that I ran across yesterday that prompted me to write this post, so I will.
Julia Rubiner of Editorial Emergency penned a post entitled Dear Marketing Opportunist. The piece takes easy swipes at the low-hanging fruit that adorns the typical copywriting cheese plate by equating bad copy with used-car salesmen.
She first reprints out-of-context snippets of “atrocious” copy for us all to snicker at. It’s hard to find many who disagree with avoiding the gratuitous use of exclamation points, textual errors and clumsy language, so Julia plays it fairly safe.
But then, Julia shows her marketing narcissism when she goes after two response techniques that are pragmatic and deeply grounded in human psychology. Why would any marketer want to toss aside techniques that work, especially on behalf of paying clients?
Marketing Narcissism Mixed With Marketing Myopia
The first area where Julia’s creative writing degree gets in the way of her marketing efficacy is the use of numbers in headlines. We all know by now that numbers in titles and headlines work and will continue to.
To time-starved citizens, the smart use of numerals in headlines is simply an ultra-specific promise that let’s people know exactly what they’re getting, and more importantly, how much attention they’re expending. Julia thinks using numbers is bad for your brand, and of course the examples she gives are intentionally down market.
This is not only marketing narcissism, it’s marketing myopia. Marketers (and bloggers) think about headlines way more than average, and thanks to selective perception, get aggravated by what they deem to be an overuse of numerals despite their efficacy.
Get over yourself—you’re not normal, and you’re not the prospect.
I’m sure we can all come up with examples of major brands using numbers in headlines in context-appropriate advertisements and content. And that’s the key, right? Context-appropriate copy, rather than a blanket condemnation of a headline technique that often works better than others. And that’s based on empirical testing, not opinion or personal preference.
Sock Puppets and Scarcity
Remember back before the Dot-Bomb implosion when ecommerce entrepreneurs thought the fundamental rules of economics had somehow been altered by the Internet? That’s what I immediately thought of when I saw Julia’s next shot at a universal aspect of marketing and sales:
The assurance that if you act now, you’ll get something extra.
Wow. So Julia suggests that utilizing scarcity—a bedrock psychological motivator and the foundation of economics—is bad for your brand? I’m pretty sure this will come as a shock to, oh… just about every company on the planet.
Based on Julia’s own language, she’s implying that:
- “Good for a limited time only” promotions are brand killers.
- Giving early adopters a price break is cheesy
- Bundling products together as a short-term incentive is inauthentic
- A Labor Day Weekend sale is a bad idea
I could go on, but this is so ridiculous I won’t. If Julia didn’t mean to be so broad, she should have qualified just a bit. Instead, the only qualification in the entire article is that there are plenty of multi-millionaires who use cheesy copy.
Classic marketing narcissism.
Get Over Yourself
In all fairness, I contacted and corresponded with Julia before I wrote this (and I would suggest every blogger do the same before publishing a “hit” piece). Here’s what she said:
Your point that for some audiences our advice is dead on, but for others, not so much is well taken; we are indeed trolling for a more exotic fish—if you’re a regular reader, you know we cater to entertainment and lifestyle clients….
Entertainment clients? Like the entertainment company that remade a Shakespearean play into a highly successful movie called 10 Things I Hate About You? And I’ll leave it up to you to examine the headlines of just about any “lifestyle” magazine at any newsstand.
Look, if you own a company and you want to market based on your personal preferences without regard for what works best with your prospects, that’s your prerogative. As long as you accept personal responsibility for lower revenues and profits when you miss the mark, no one can say a thing.
But if you’re consulting for clients or publishing marketing advice, I think you have a responsibility to set aside your personal prejudices and explore everything that works in a context-appropriate way. Or, just follow your own Marketing 2.0 advice and be truly authentic and transparent on your website:
“Welcome! I may not give you the most effective advice, but I sure do like it!”