Trust me!One of the common questions I’m asked at conferences and by reporters is whether neuromarketing techniques are ethical, or whether they are just one more way to manipulate consumers into buying stuff they don’t need. My response to this is to ask whether boring or annoying ads are preferable to ads that the viewer finds engaging. Personally, I’d prefer to watch an ad shown to light up the brains of viewers (like the highly engaging Darth Vader ad from VW) vs. one with less impact (like most 30 and 60 second spots). But that begs the question: are marketing and advertising themselves manipulative and fundamentally wrong?

I’ve certainly encountered individuals who believe that the only good advertising is no advertising, and who blame marketers for excessive consumer spending, destruction of the environment, and many other societal ills. Needless to say, I disagree. While there are bad marketers who push bad or inappropriate products, who manipulate consumers into spending money they shouldn’t, and engage in other evil activities, they simply aren’t the norm.

Cuban on The Best Salesperson

I just read Mark Cuban’s How to Win at the Sport of Business, and he describes what makes a good salesperson:

The best salesperson is the one the customer trusts and never has to question.

The best salesperson is the one who knows that with every cold call made, he is closer to helping someone.

The best salesperson is the one who takes immense satisfaction from the satisfaction the customer gets.

Cuban’s words should resonate with everyone involved in customer persuasion – substitute “marketer” or “advertiser” for “salesperson,” and you have the definition of how to build a brand. Real marketers solve problems for customers. They ensure that the product meets or exceeds the expectations they create, and work to fix situations where that doesn’t happen.

No More “One and Done”

There was a time when marketers could push products that didn’t meet expectations and thrive, at least as long as there were still new customers to convert. Today, social media has changed the market dynamic for the better – marketers must continuously engage with customers, both satisfied and unhappy, and have no choice but to quickly address cases where reality fails to match the marketing message. Instant, wide-reaching communication ensures that the bar is set high.

Do We Need All Those Colas and Shampoos?

Even when products are seemingly interchangeable, marketers can increase consumer enjoyment of a product. Brain scan data shows that for many consumers, drinking branded Coca Cola is more pleasurable than drinking the competition, even when the beverage actually IS the competition. Decades of successful branding efforts by Coke mean consumer enjoyment of their product is enhanced. Coke’s marketers have done what their development labs couldn’t: create a better-tasting cola.

Needless to say, with such a valuable and trusted franchise, a firm like Coca Cola would hardly engage in marketing activities that they expected would disappoint their customers but would make a quick buck.

Marketing Reality

Just as there are sleazy salespeople, there are sleazy marketers. These salespeople and marketers make inflated claims and promise results that won’t be obtained. Of course, this business model isn’t sustainable in the long run. Reality catches up, trust is lost, and reputations are trashed.

Serious marketers, like the true sales professionals described by Cuban, know that their reputations – company, brand, and personal – are their most valuable assets. Even as they strive to attract new customers, they work to ensure that the first experience will be positive and the customer will return again and again. As Coca Cola has shown, good marketing does more than move product off the shelves, it adds real value!