Excerpt from Unsuited, Chapter 5
The Internet is full of scammers – marketers, who attempt to use antiquated methods to interrupt, manipulate and in some cases even deceive potential customers into purchasing their product or service. Online marketers often make claims that are not only audacious, they’re harmful, because of the message they are portraying. For example, I recently saw a Facebook advertisement directed at small business owners that offered the prospect of using social media to “double the size of their business without ever having to talk to a customer.” Imagine that! Using a forum that is designed to create connections to double the size of your business and never have to deal with the “burdens” associated with making a real connection and providing good customer service.
Popular social media websites can be an effective portal for deceptive marketing practices like false and misleading claims in an attempt to “trick” you into visiting a website. The enforceability and traceability of lawsuits related to Internet based deception has not kept pace with the speed that the deception has proliferated. However, the Internet has a built in a safety mechanism. It is called trust and the power of individual choice. The wonderful thing about the Internet is that deception doesn’t work, over the long run. You may be able to dupe an unsuspecting few (which is often all these marketers are after), but the practice is ultimately ineffective.
No matter how large a company’s marketing budget is, and no matter how intelligent their executives and attorneys are, they cannot force, or trick, a consumer to pay attention to them on the Internet. An individual always has the power. There are no exceptions. An individual can simply choose not to click on a web page. An individual can exit out of a site without any consequences, and they never have to come back. Even if a marketer engages in a deceptive practice like using images unassociated with their product to tacitly endorse a product, once an individual figures out what is going on, they will exit the page. That is the best-case scenario for the deceptive marketer. In the worst case, an individual loses trust, tells friends, and uses the same social media engine to drive negative sentiment away from the deceptive marketer.
This is very different from life before the Internet, where push marketing tactics allowed a marketer to hold captive an audience (if you could afford the airtime), and information was in short supply. So if someone on TV or the radio told you it was true, you rarely doubted it. If you were watching your favorite sporting event, listening to a Presidential debate, or enjoying your favorite sitcom, unless you planned on literally leaving the room or turning off your TV, at each commercial break you were held captive to whatever product or service purchased your attention. The jingle line for the product conditioned you to think about it whether you wanted to or not.
A captive audience hearing a repeated message doesn’t realize that there might be other alternatives and choices available in the marketplace. Also, with limited access to information they can’t refute the claims that the marketers make regarding their products. A consumer’s frame of reference for a particular product was what they had heard on the radio, or television, read about in a limited supply of magazines or newspapers, or heard from a work or business associate, trusted friend, or family member – who were all gaining their information from the same isolated reference sources. In many cases choice wasn’t even a real option. The supplier may have had a near monopoly on the product, given the costs and time associated with shipping.
Today is a radically different consumer environment. Conventional network television has been replaced by on demand digital cable where individuals determined exactly what they want to see, and when they want to see it. Technology allows them to skip every commercial and never be held captive. Traditional radio is being countered by commercial free programming options where for a set fee consumers can take the power back. And above all else, the Internet dominates as the pre-eminent source of choice, information and the engine that powers trends. Today, choice is the norm. Information is everywhere and generally that information is available for free. With a simple combination of search engine queries you can find the good, the bad and the ugly about whatever you are looking for. Then, with the click of a mouse you can securely purchase your product, and have it shipped to your doorstep at a very low cost.
You cannot succeed in today’s Internet-based marketplace by forcing your self and your size on others. The conventional notion of power doesn’t work the way it used to. To succeed on the Internet you have to be able to provide value to others. It’s not nearly as important “who you know”, because even large power players cannot force a viral trend on the Internet. Viral trends are independent of power structures. Viral trends are created when a niche market, or as Seth Godin labels it a “tribe”, believes that something is valuable enough to share with other people that they know. It can be the endorsement of a product, service, or even something funny or random like a meme or a video. Individuals deem something to be of value when it connects with them in a unique way. Once this connection is made they want to share it with those in their network.