Gossip Drama Soup: The Sins of Internet Marketing
So, the other day I wrote a post about the Dunford-Droid-NavarroFamily mess, henceforth known as Gossip Drama Soup. The pot is coming to a boil, and honestly, I’m still not really not certain of all the ingredients that add to its… erm… distinctive aroma.
Whew, that is one stinky soup.
But among the personal drama about mortal sins and mouthy broads and failed businesses? There’s a whole other topic that isn’t being discussed much yet, and it’s the one that might actually be sort of relevant here on the Circus:
<cue over-dramatic music>
of Internet Marketing!
One of the major chefs cooking up the Soup is an anti-scam blogger with a sort of Perez Hilton vibe. His sights are currently set on the Internet Marketing world in general, and more specifically, most of the big meta-blogging /info marketing names. (I think he’d agree with that’s a fair assessment.)
Mind you, Internet Marketing is a broad term. No, I don’t mean broad as in “mouthy broads” (hush, you!). I mean that the term covers a lot of ground, has multiple meanings, and the distinctions between those meanings aren’t always clear.
Here’s the break down:
On one hand, Internet Marketing is any sort of promotional marketing done via the internet. It includes things like advertising banners, direct emails, newsletters, authority blogging, search engine optimization, promotional webinars, teleseminars, blah yadda blah blah. It’s perfectly legit part of doing business and it is done by everyone from Amazon.com to Presidential Campaigns.
On the other hand, Internet Marketing often refers to a very specific niche of online marketing – a niche that has an ickiness factor falling somewhere between ads in the backs of comic books and those late night infomercials for colon cleansers. That’s who we’re going to focus on for a little bit, ok?
Much of the bad reputation of that niche?
It’s well deserved.
Many of the self proclaimed “break out experts” of Internet Marketing (especially in the early days) touted some pretty questionable tactics. They promised quick and easy fortunes, with l ittle to no effort invested. They cheated their way into search engine rankings, created fake sites for reviews and backlinks, bought email address lists, hired people to leave fake blog & forums comments, used deceptive keyword practices, hijacked browsers, scraped content from other blogs, paid people to click their ads, and used whatever hard sell tactics they could dream up at the expense of both their customers and their less sleezy competition.
These days, they’ve upped their game to include charming things like buying Facebook fans and Twitter followers. Yes, they’re still around in large numbers, but they’re no longer the dominant force on the web.
The info products the Icky IMers sell?
They rarely write them.
Their usual practice is to outsource projects to virtual sweat shops, where a ghost writer making pennies an hour researches a topic on the web, and “spins” existing articles by replacing words into “new” content. (There’s software that does this for you, by the way).
When the ghost writers are finished, they regurgitate the info into an ebook, and send it back to the marketer. The marketer claims authorship, and not only sells the ebook, but the licensing rights to the ebook, licensing that allows their customers to rebrand it yet again – sometimes claiming *they* are the author. I know, gross, right?
Some of their customers? They send it back out for a new spin with the sweatshop ghostwriters. Some of them just put it back up online, as is, with only the author’s name changed. The result is a whole bunch of watered down content that all says the exact same thing, being sold by a dozen different people at different prices.
And a lot of the content they spin and sell? It’s get-rich-quick-working-from-home schemes, teaching you to charge absurd amounts of money to people want to learn how to charge absurd amounts of money teaching people to charge absurd amounts of money. (Yes, I got a little dizzy writing that.)
It all has a lot in common with the old “work from home stuffing envelopes” scams that appear in classified sections, and it’s fair to call many of the practices in the Icky Internet Marketing world fraudulent. (Though some of it isn’t legally fraud, it’s just icky)
Clearly, that’s pretty sleezy. But equally clearly,
not all Internet Marketing is that sleezy.
Ok, the marketing for presidential campaigns is often sleezy, I’ll give you that… but there are a lot of online marketing campaigns that are totally above board, upfront, honest and legit.
And yet, to be honest?
All marketing, even the best of it (especially the best of it) does have a certain sleeze factor – because bottom line? Marketing is manipulation.
Let me repeat that, with my usual flourishes:
Marketing Is Manipulation.
Marketing – all of it – is an attempt to get you to do something, something you might not (ok, probably wouldn’t) do otherwise.
And when you intentionally shape your brand, your logo, your website, when you pretty up your display tables so that it creates a certain effect? Those things are all part of marketing, and when you do them? You’re manipulating people’s perceptions.
You’re manipulating people’s perceptions so that you and your offerings strike the right note, a note that hopefully gets people to act on whatever it is you’re offering. You might be manipulating perceptions to be sure they see the actual (high) value of your offer, or you might be manipulating perceptions to make sure they don’t see the actual (low) value of your offer, but either way, it’s still manipulation.
That manipulation thing? It’s why a lot of creative types struggle with the whole idea of marketing ourselves or our products or services. Consciously or unconsciously, we know that marketing is manipulation, and we’re not comfortable with that. We’ve been taught, all of our lives, that manipulation is wrong, sleezy, and creepy.
But not all manipulation is bad.
Really. It’s not.
Here’s the relevant definition from Dictionary.com:
Manipulate: to negotiate, control, or influence (something or someone) cleverly, skillfully, or deviously.
Ok, controlling or influencing someone deviously? That’s bad – I’m not a big fan of underhanded anything except for stage magic.
But what about skillfully influencing someone, if it’s in a positive way? Is that always bad?
How about when you promise your kids a treat if they clean their rooms? That’s manipulation. When a company offers a bonus to their top performing sales people? Manipulation. When the grocery store puts up a sign that says 3 for $3? Manipulation. Running commercials about the dangers of smoking? Manipulation.
A confession: as an artist and writer, and yes, and when I monkey around with web design, too, I am shamelessly manipulative.
This website? It’s specifically designed to create an effect while you’re reading, to set a mood before you’ve even started reading. My very best works of art? They blatantly manipulate the viewer emotionally. My very best writing? It leads the reader step by step, exactly to the conclusion I want them to reach. (This post, by the way, is not my best writing. But yes, I’m leading you to a conclusion, even if it’s not particularly skillful.)
But anyway. Once I started to understand the persuasive/manipulative elements in my chosen forms of expression, I casually started studying marketing techniques.
And by casually,
I mean do mean casually.
I picked up used books here and there, searched out information on the internet, and informally studied what various advertisers and marketers did. Don’t quiz me, because my goal wasn’t to pass a test, or be able to hold a cohesive conversation with industry experts – it was more to grok the core concepts that would shape my own work.
I was especially interested in online marketing as it developed, both because I wanted to learn to actually sell the things I created (writing, art, advice) online, and because it’s just easier to research online marketing. Yes, I’m guilty of being a bit lazy.
But I was frustrated in my casual studies. See, when I started? The only sources of info online seemed to be either the Icky Internet Marketers, or really high dollar consultants, who used some of the less obnoxious but still Icky IM tactics themselves. There just wasn’t much good information out there that I could relate to.
Then, slowly, a new model
for marketing developed.
It was at partially a response to the emergence of blogging as a shiny new platform, and it was largely driven by the ideas of Seth Godin. The core concept? Instead of pushing products at an unwilling, captive audience (as with tv and radio), marketing needed to shift it’s approach to permission-based approaches. On the internet, the captive-audience push of traditional advertising just wasn’t working well, because people weren’t captive – they simply clicked away from ads.
The “clicking away” reminds me of my grandfather, who would actually get up and stand in front of the TV when commercials were on, because he thought they were manipulative. Yes, I got really early lessons about this stuff. And yes, his standing in front of the TV every 10 minutes or so was *really* annoying. But the way web pages are delivered? It makes ” standing in front of the TV” during commercials really easy.
To stop the epidemic of advertiser-click-aways? The newer marketing models suggested that companies and individual entrepreneurs need to provide remarkable, valuable offerings, and they need to build trust and authority to attract and retain customers. Instead of pushing products, the marketing is meant to attract customers, pulling them to the products and ads… There are good examples of it on many company Facebook pages, but when I first ran across it? It was being used and discussed on the then fledgeling pro-blogs.
The ideas of remarkability, authority, and authenticity was a refreshing contrast to the previous blatant tactics of spam, squeeze-pages, and big red flashing fonts.
It was also a big relief to a lot of people who wanted to learn to sell their stuff online, but who couldn’t stomach a lot of yellow highlighter or spammy emails.
Many of the early adopters
and promoters of this approach?
The bloggers and Internet Marketers who introduced me to the ideas in the new, less icky models? They’re some of the same folks who are either directly or tangentially connected to our Internet Marketing Drama Soup, part of the supposed circle of fraud being exposed through all of this.
That’s why I find all of this so very strange. Maybe it’s a case of “the sins of the father” and everyone is being unfairly slimed because of the historical view of Internet Marketing. Maybe there are actual elements of ick that have been inherited. Maybe someone was frightened by an Internet Marketer as a small child, and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress as a result.
Maybe it’s all just misplaced drama – I certainly don’t claim to understand it.
But however the Gossip Drama Soup plays out, whoever gets drug into it, whatever any of us decide to believe, whoever we decide we do or don’t trust?
Please remember this:
Internet Marketing is not inherently icky, deceitful, or intended to mislead people. Not everyone writing or teaching Internet Marketing or Meta-Blogging or anything else is involved in a sort of pyramid scheme or the fraudulent hawking of impossible dreams. Not everyone who is learning about Internet Marketing or Pro-Blogging is a sheep being led to the sheering pen.
Yes, marketing *is* manipulation, and done skillfully, it’s a powerful tool – a tool that can be used for positive, benign, and malignant purposes. But marketing is not inherently evil, dirty, scammy or scummy.
It is ok to want to earn a living doing something you’re passionate about, and it is ok to learn about effective marketing techniques, either as part of building a business, or just because it fascinates you.
Ok, lecture over.
This post? It’s mostly
just rambling background info.
Because I’m going make my real point a bit later.
But be warned, there won’t be any dirty details of affairs, death threats, bloody sharks or evil spiders in it, so enjoy the soup while you can, ok?
P.S. I wanted to draw the shark and the spider as though they were on the cover of a bodice-ripper, because I thought that would be cool. But the shark complained that the corset was just more evidence of the paternalistic sexist society, and so the spider refused to pull the laces any tighter. I’m still not sure why they’re working together on this, but, hey, art and blogging makes for strange bedfellows.
P.P.S. Yes, it’s ok to giggle at the pictures, even if you’re a visitor from the SD site. There’s no hidden slime in them, promise. They’re just meant to be fun.
P.P.P.S. Well, there might be some slime in the soup. I’m not tasting it to find out, though.