Marketing Strategies

Manipulation in Marketing: How It's Used, and How to Use It Ethically

Done right, manipulation in marketing is a good thing. But, like most good things, it can quickly turn sour in the wrong hands.
Manipulation in Marketing: How It's Used, and How to Use It Ethically
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Guest Writer
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Through modern retargeting, I can manipulate you into believing something you do not believe.

And when I say I can, I mean anyone can: the media, government, marketers, online business owners ... anyone!

Related: 4 Ways to Market Your Business for Free

You see, your mind largely works on a subconscious level. During every second of your waking day, it takes in -- and filters -- tremendous amounts of information. It needs to. You would not get through the day unless it subconsciously took in information, spat it out and made assumptions on the back of it.

So, as you scroll through Facebook or browse YouTube, you don't actually understand what's going on. You take it in, but you don't necessarily understand the message -- or question whether it's true. You're on autopilot, and you subconsciously form beliefs and perceptions on ... everything!

Manipulation in marketing (and politics, the media, and everything else)

Marketing was built on this fact. The reason Coca-Cola became the giant it is today is because it creates omnipresence through billboards, TV spots, newspaper ads, etc. The company knows if you see the brand enough, you'll form attachments to it.

And it's not the only one.

Just think about the 2016 U.S. election -- the tactics used, and the conspiracies built on the back of it like "fake news." Political groups built momentum by targeting specific "bubbles" of people, and it grew from there as things that may or may not have been true were made to feel true.

And as they say, perception is reality.

Again, this isn't new. Companies, governments and religions have targeted "bubbles" like this throughout history. As a species, we're bred to attach ourselves to such "bubbles": hobbies, political beliefs, age/peer groups, interest, religion, etc. 

Related: 10 Marketing Influencers That Every Entrepreneur Can Learn From

The problem is, the stakes are higher these days. Anyone with access to the right algorithm (and if you have access to Google or Facebook, you have access to these algorithms) can target, re-target and manipulate these bubbles of people. Amazon can manipulate you into buying certain products. The media can manipulate you into believing (or not) in a new agenda or campaign. Politicians can manipulate you into forming certain perceptions or prejudice. 

You cannot escape this, and this not only impacts you as a person, but as a business owner. Because as a business owner you can -- and will -- manipulate your audience every single day.

The good news is ... you get to choose how you do!

Ethical manipulation in marketing

If you own a business, manipulation in marketing is part of what you do. It's the only way to create raving fans, sell them products and gain their trust. Manipulation is part of what you do, so the trick isn't whether you do it or not -- but rather how you do it.

The most successful entrepreneurs I know are conscious about how they use manipulation in marketing. They don't feel guilty about doing it, and neither should you. Because done properly it can have a positive impact on your audience.

Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

Take Amazon, for example. Have you ever found a book you absolutely love, all because Amazon recommended it to you as you searched its site?

What about Facebook. Have you ever come across an influencer or thought leader you now love and follow, all because Facebook targeted you with one of his or her messages one day?

Done right, manipulation in marketing is a good thing. But, like most good things, it can quickly turn sour in the wrong hands. Which leads us to ask ...

How do you ethically use manipulation in marketing?

It begins by you know your offer or product at a deep level. Does it transform? Is it a "vitamin" or a "painkiller"? Is it, and you, the real deal? Will it have a genuine, massive impact on the other person? You have to believe in what you do, and commit to becoming the best at it.

Once you do, you then have to know who this helps. You need to know your audience on a deep level, too. What is their biggest problem right now? What is the largest pain are they feeling? Are they avoiding this pain, and resisting taking action?

This is why manipulation in marketing is a good thing, because it's in our DNA to feel comfortable; we are born to survive and avoid dangerous situations. So, we remain in our comfort zone and remain blind to the solutions we need. 

Related: Use These 5 Steps to Create a Marketing Plan

Your job is to illuminate their pain, so they know they have it. Your job is to show them the solution, so they know what to do. Your job is to guide them, so they overcome their problem.

If you want to help your audience, you have to manipulate them; otherwise they may never "figure it" out. But, there's a right way to go about it and a wrong way, and the right way centers around:

  • Relevance: Don't sell to them; give huge value. Be relevant and give them what they need.
  • Omnipresence: Become "top of mind," because they won't "figure it out" overnight.
  • Intimacy: Build their trust, be "real" with them and continue to help them with value.

Do this and you'll ethically manipulate your audience into taking the action they need.

It's easier than ever to do, but most people don't because it's easier still to prey on their fears and insecurities. Such scarcity tactics don't serve them, and they don't serve you in the long term.

So, which approach will you choose to take?

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