Persuasion vs. Manipulation

This week’s post was inspired by two separate, and completely unrelated conversations, one with the Skinny Professor, and one with a new friend, the Woodworker.  So let’s start at the beginning.

The Skinny Professor and I were on one our our marathon phone conversations, talking about a recent post of mine on the subject of deserving, when he mentioned his disallusionment with business. He feels like business, especially marketing, objectives are to manipulate us into buying things we don’t really need. While I conceded his point that many businesses do manipulate people into buying more than they need, I’m not sure that that is sustainable. Nor am I sure that that is good marketing.  Personally, I believe that if a customer doesn’t need it, I shouldn’t manipulate her into buying it. But I felt like my response to him was a bit lame.

Then I read an analysis of a case study in the Harvard Business Review (May 09) by James Borg.  Borg believes that there is a difference between persuasion and manipulation. That difference is intent. Persuasion is about meeting the needs of both parties which develops a long term relationship, while manipulation is about meeting your own needs at the expense of those of the other party.  Typically relationships based on manipulation fail over the long term. 

A few days later, I was talking to the Woodworker about one of his particularly difficult clients. I told him the story of a woman for whom I once did consulting work. I was billing her significant dollars, spending a lot of time providing her with advice, but she didn’t seem to do anything about it.  She essentially wanted someone to tell her she was doing the right thing. I felt I wasn’t adding any value for her, even though she was willing to pay me a lot of money. So I politely and gently fired her.  There was a lot of benefit for me to stay in the consulting relationship, and not a lot of benefit for her.

Which makes me wonder if marketers and strategists need to rethink the idea of marketing. Maybe selling more shouldn’t always be the objective.  Maybe selling to the right person, at the right time, with the right reasons can be a powerful persuasive tool.  If we do that well, there may be room to increase price and margins for delivering exactly the right product to the right person. 

There has been a lot of talk about “de-marketing”, dumping customers who are not profitable. Perhaps we should re-think de-marketing.  Rather than de-market to the unprofitable customer, should we de-market to those who don’t really benefit from our products?  Does this provide a more sustainable and ethical basis for business?  What do you think?


Categories: Marketing

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3 replies »

  1. How true. As a small business person, I might even take a step backward, and call it “connection vs manipulation”. I always worked for firms with teeny marketing budgets. I found quickly that if I could hit the nail on the head i.e. create a product or service that would be immediately recognized as needed or valuable, the marketing cycle would be much shorter. So much more time went into hands-on research, and the marketing process began as we incorporated major customers into helping us design the product. By the time we launched, those customers ensured the success of the product.

    When I started teaching marketing, I realized that this collaborative model was too big a stretch for many of the small business people in my programs. For them, marketing was more about manipulation at worst and persuasion at best as they saw input from others about their offerings as criticism. At least most of them did. Now, I also understand that they were coming from a place of scarcity.

    As with the woman about whom you spoke who just wanted to be told she was doing well. Isn’t that what mothers are for..?

  2. Sometimes it is more profitable in the long run to cut losses and move on to more profitable prospects. I agree with this concept.

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