Earth To Entrepreneurs:

The Marketing Playbook Needs Innovation

Marketing Tactics That Give Customers More Problems Than Solutions

Written By: Julia Russo, Founder & CEO. Published: 07/30/2020

There is a known lack of public trust for the marketing industry in the United States – in fact, the marketing and advertising industry is on par with our beloved Congress in terms of perceived honesty.

We all know what it’s like to be spammed incessantly with the “Time Is Running Out!” or the “BOGO FREE with extra tiny print we hope you aren’t reading” notifications. Nonetheless, there are more subtle marketing tactics that can be effective, if morally ambiguous and major sources of frustration for potential customers.

Let’s explore some go-to marketing strategies that need a dose of innovation from 21st century entrepreneurs.

#1. Relying On Habit Formation

What do minty toothpaste, foaming shampoo, and chapstick all have in common? Their marketing campaigns were developed with our habit-forming brains in mind in order to hook customers on products that don’t solve real problems. But man do they SELL. What would toothpaste be without that entirely unnecessary mintiness? Remember, baking soda, or alternative brands from the mainstream Crest and Colgate – do the trick for a fraction of the cost. Do you know people who can’t go anywhere without chapstick? How silly considering major lip balm brands have been proven to dry out lips over time. Or what about shampoo that doesn’t foam, despite this being known to damage hair? Forget about it. 

What do these products’ marketing strategies share? They know how powerful habit formation is, and when applying, rinsing and repeating becomes a part of daily life, they know you’ll be back for more.

What Else Can We Do?

Habit formation is a powerful tool, but the marketing industry needs to stop scamming people into buying way too much product or product that doesn’t actually work – and even causes long-term damage. Is it necessary to wash your hair, brush your teeth with minty toothpaste, or wear chapstick every day? Absolutely not – and although perhaps these major brands made it work, your customers can become your enemies if you consistently mislead them. Let’s rely on habit-formation if it is for a genuine, societal or health-improving cause – such as Headspace’s meditation app or checking LinkedIn for professional development. As a side note, I first learned about these case studies from the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – excellent book, I recommend it to everyone.

#2. Fabricating Urgency & Scarcity

Creating a sense of urgency and scarcity has proven to be effective, but let’s be honest, it’s cliche and tacky to put a countdown clock all over your website, to spam email clients that abandoned their cart, or to show fake inventory levels – the list goes on and on. There’s nothing I dislike more than seeing an ad for a product that’s “50% Off Today Only!” That I know is the exact same price I saw last week. This frustrates and breeds distrust in your customer-base in the long run.

What Else Can We Do?

I recently saw a startup website show live purchases being made through a sidebar pop-up that instantly got me thinking, “Wow, they must be in high demand!” Creating a sense of FOMO or what’s known as “social proof” with a unique demonstration of genuine product reviews/purchases is a much less tacky route here that can be innovated on with visual imagery and less spammy cues.

#3. Pricing Psychology & Anchoring

Ever wonder why brands insist on using 9’s to market their products, either before or after the decimal? As consumers, we are conditioned to believe a product is on sale when we see a 9 (Only $59!) or .99 attached to it, and we are particularly inclined to not process numbers beyond the first number and/or the decimal point. Another pricing strategy is known as ‘Price Anchoring,’ where a more expensive product is intentionally placed alongside a less expensive version in order to make the cheaper product appear to be a better deal or even on sale. Keep in mind the higher priced item is often a decoy – with its price elevated on purpose.

What Else Can We Do?

Pricing strategies of this nature aren’t particularly immoral, and the #9 trick has been proven to work – but they’re certainly cliche. If you care about serving your customers in the long run and reducing their pain points – let’s try limiting product choices to reduce customer anxiety, bundling items that are often purchased together as Amazon does, or highlighting a “Bestseller” item.


 #4. Clever Copy

I LOVE a good ad that is ridiculously clever at grabbing your attention and even making you laugh! This  article has some fantastic examples. There is a not-so-brilliant side to this, which includes, among other mediums, email marketing copy. It is the worst to see email subject lines or ad copy that is either misleading (downright false advertising) or which includes RE: or FWD: when you have had zero communication with said marketer. 

What Else Can We Do?

Stick with the funny stuff – and stay authentic people. Get creative and be unique as you develop your brand! Comedy and evoking a positive response from a potential customer is always a great start to a long-lasting, trusting, client-relationship.

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