Let’s do a little thought experiment related to ethics and morality in marketing.
Yes, it’s a mouthful. But don’t worry: I don’t have the answers to this one so I won’t pontificate. Much.
The other day, my cat fell ill, and he rapidly got worse. Feline leukemia can exist in the body for years without causing illness, but once it does the cat won’t survive for very long.
At some point I had to decide: Have him put to sleep, or try to keep him alive a bit longer? If you think I’m cruel for wanting him to live on despite an illness – I’m not cruel. There was no indication that he was suffering, none at all. He was skinny and he slept a lot, but he still washed, ate, drank… like any healthy cat, just more slowly.
In the end of course, his condition got so bad that there was no other choice, and the vet came round to… well you know.
It makes me wonder: As human beings, we can decide on behalf of animals. We can determine that the suffering has lasted long enough. We’re the ones who ‘know’ that ‘it’s cruel’, or ‘it’s inhumane’, or that ‘he should be put out of his misery’.
To me, it raises a moral question: How well do we really know what’s best for others?
This isn’t just about pets: It also relates to people, and specifically to business. More specifically: Marketing.
Should You Always Be Closing?
You may have a fantastic course. Maybe you offer amazingly effective coaching. Perhaps you’re the best personal trainer out there.
It might well be that you do indeed change the world.
And yet, your special brand of awesome won’t work for everybody.
So in marketing, the question I like to ask is: How hard should we sell? No matter how good our book is… how effective we are at coaching… how life-changing our custom built wonkets are… should we try to sell them to people who won’t benefit from our offer?
Selfhelp books are a fantastic example. People have built fortunes out of selling selfhelp books to people who put it on the shelf (or somewhere in the back of their harddrive) never to look at it again, let alone use it. Hence the term ‘Shelfhelp books.’
Is that right? Should we sell to those people?
Some say yes. There are very serious and ethical marketers who believe that yes, everyone should have the opportunity to benefit, to improve, to change their lives. According to them, this trumps the question of whether or not somebody will actually use it.
I’m not so sure. I’m not saying that I disagree – I just don’t know.
What ‘Conversion’ Really Means
To me, it’s somewhat similar to the preaching&converting that I observed some of my brethren do, back in my monastic days.
Me, I’ve always loathed that behaviour, and still do. A faith, a religion, is something that you choose. If it’s ‘sold’ to you, I believe nothing good can come from it.
At best, you can answer questions from people who show an interest. And if the answers make sense, well then maybe that person will pick up meditation. Or at least give it a try.
But what if you would ‘sell’ an individual on meditation? It’s not that hard – I’ve seen it happen.
But guess what? You talk to someone who has, say, a problem with concentration. Or someone who worries too much. You work on them, you influence them, you persuade them…
…And They Gain Nothing From It
They decide to follow your advice, they join you at a meditation to give it a try… and it might just work for them. Then again, it might not.
And that’s the crux of the problem: The fact that they were persuaded rather than choosing it under their own steam, means that it’s quite possible – or even likely – that it won’t work for them.
You can be damn sure that this person won’t even be interested in listening about the benefits of meditation, next time someone comes along to tell them about it.
So what will you have achieved with your skilled persuasion? You’ll have made someone sit still for an hour or so, only to never want to try it again.
The same thing applies in business: You’ll sell a book or a course that goes unused because ‘you know that they need this’, and they’ll buy it only because you made it a hard sale.
Even if they do need your book, that’s not why they buy it. And so they really won’t be very interested next time you or someone else offers them a product that promises to solve their problem.
So when you base your hard sale on the notion that ‘You know what’s best for them’, how much good do you actually do?