Seems I'm ranting a lot these days, and a little more opinionated than the norm. Perhaps it's my broken back, which is killing me, that's making me more sensitive or irritable. I don't know.
But something someone recently said in my copywriters forum irritated me. And it's not what this person said specifically, but the mindset behind it that's bothering me.
In a thread about an Internet marketer who was recently arrested (yes, it had something to do with forced continuity, but it had more to do with refusing refunds and avoiding customers than it had to do with forced continuity itself), one member said:
“There is NO such thing as an honest business man. (…) Ask any accountant.”
Now, I have no clue as to why this person said this. And my opinion here is not about this person specifically. Again, it's about the thinking process that some people have when they make such assertions.
Personally, I believe this view of business people is skewed, off, and wrong. It's destructive, too.
In fact, copywriter Marcia Yudkin said it best. In her reply, she said this gem: “I feel sorry for you. That is a terrible philosophy to hold, hurtful to you and hurtful to the honest people who deal with you.”
I know what the original commentator was trying to say, but I wouldn't have said “dishonest.” I believe the word choice is wrong because of the implication. Are all business people really dishonest?
Saying it that way can be easily misconstrued. And it can also be easily misinterpreted, too.
That's the power of words. That's what makes us copywriters, too.
We choose our words carefully. The words we use can be incredibly powerful — both good and bad.
If “dishonest” is referring to communications, I'll be the first to admit that we do exaggerate from time to time. We try to put our product in its best possible light. We focus more on the benefits than we do on the downfalls.
But you know, that's not reserved to business people only.
We do it when we try to explain a movie we love to our friends. Or when we bolster our ego talking about a great deal we got at the local store. Or when we court a potential life partner.
It's human nature.
Words have emotional impact. Even with the most logical, analytical people out there. Our choice of words can make or break the sale, whether the product is good or not. Just as words can make or break relationships, court cases, even wars.
For example, real estate agents will say they sell “homes,” not houses. Dentists will say they create beautiful “smiles,” not “teeth.” We tell stories to communicate a product's purpose or brand. We use words that paint vivid mental pictures.
(I recommend Seth Godin's book, “All Marketers Are Liars.” By the way, Seth is referring to the power of telling stories in marketing.)
But to say all business people are dishonest, and even implying that one should ask any accountant, is a terribly skewed vision of the world. And I'm speaking generally, not just about business itself.
Business people do try to make maximum profit with every transaction, and they will try to do it at the least amount of expense.
The difference is, the honest ones will do so at the service of others, while the dishonest ones will do so at the expense of others.
Making a profit can be seen by a lot of people as “dishonest.” I'm a capitalist through and through, and I believe in win-win. I don't see anything wrong with mutually beneficial transactions, which is what business is and should be, in my opinion.
We sell products and services that benefit our customers. But just as much as we are responsible not to mislead, lie, or deceive, customers are just as responsible for their own lives, their own decisions, and their own actions.
What I have a problem with is, some people do see any kind of marketing, or any kind of selling, as dishonest.
And for some reason, that bothers me.
For example, in the same vein as “all business people are dishonest,” some have said, in the recent forced continuity debate, that all marketing is unethical.
They say that a product should sell by itself based on its own merit. And that marketing and selling (and to that I would add copywriting) exist because it's the only way to sell a poor product that can't sell itself.
If so, then we must be all psychics, because we should know about all the good products in the world. We should rely only on word-of-mouth — we all have friends who will tell us what we need to know, right?
And we should all buy everything that “is good” (even though “good” is subjective and personal) solely because they alone merit our attention, our patronage, and our money.
Forget about life getting in the way.
Forget about competition.
Forget about our innate fear of loss.
Forget about the state of the economy.
Forget about the need for marketing to help better decide how we spend our money.
And forget our natural proclivities to want to be secure, to procrastinate, to avoid making bad decisions, and to save our money to buy only what we need — not what we want. (Goodness forbid we buy what we want, not what we need!)
Obviously, that's wrong. At least to me, it is.
(Here comes the rant.)
In my experience, people who think all marketing is unethical or that all business people are dishonest are usually people who feel everything should be free.
Now, I'm not trying to start a political debate regarding capitalism versus socialism. I'm talking about people who have a sense of entitlement, especially those who whine and complain all the time.
People who bitch about businesses exploiting them are just as much trying to exploit businesses themselves by always trying to find, or haggling for, a good deal.
This is called “projection.” (I'll come back to this in a moment.)
People who feel that they deserve great products and great customer service (which is a given and expected) but for the least amount of money possible.
People who feel they should get the most by working (or paying) the least.
These people who have a sense of entitlement blame others all the time, never take responsibility for their own circumstances, victimize themselves constantly, and whine all the time about how unfair the world is.
To them, not only are all business people dishonest and all marketing unethical, but also everything costs too much. They automatically assume that all marketing is a scam, and that they, in turn, will do their darnedest best to scam businesses, too.
They will suck them for freebies. They will never buy anything. They let coupons and deals dictate their lives. And they will be the first ones to pounce on any mistake a marketer makes — such as a grocery store accidentally pricing an item too low.
They're the ones who think, “if it's that good, then it should be cheap… Or free.”
They try to get the most by paying the least (now tell me, how different is that from the business owner who tries to make the most profit with the least expense?).
People who make such assertions should look in the mirror first.
In a recent blog post, one of my favorite authors and speakers, Larry Winget, talked about banning one of his blog commentators who was toxic, always negative, and went out of his way to badmouth Larry.
This person was so incensed, even to the point of going on Amazon and giving every book Larry wrote a bad review.
In that blog post, I commented that, if only the bad commentators would put as much work into, well, working on their own success, I betcha they wouldn't find the time to bitch.
They would be too busy being successful.
Larry once noted that the hardest thing one can and will ever do in their lives is to look at themselves in the mirror and say, “It's all my fault.”
These “bad commentators” aren't looking in the mirror as they should be. And I would venture to say that people who don't look in the mirror expect everything else to be one. (That's what I mean by “projection.”)
Remember the old Einstein saying that, when your only tool is hammer you see every problem as a nail? It's the same idea, here.
That is, when these faultfinders blame others, they are projecting their own self-loathing onto others.
Similarly, what I found is that those who whine and complain are usually the ones who aren't happy with themselves, and feel the need to blame others.
And they put a lot of work, effort, and even money into dragging other people down, or into whining about how bad things are (e.g., how broke and tired they are, or how scammed they've been).
Why don't they spend all that energy and money on getting ahead instead? Or dare I say it, into starting a business, and — here's a novel concept — marketing and selling themselves?
In Larry's program, “Success is Your Own (Damn) Fault,” he quotes the Sanborn Maxim, which goes: “The customers who are willing to pay you the least will always demand the most.”
While that might be true in terms of money, I think it's the same with everything else.
For example, “The people who are willing to pay you the least respect will always demand the most.” (And I believe they're the ones who deserve it the least, too.)
I agree that there are some business people out there who are dishonest. Thinking that all of them are honest is just as skewed as the converse.
But that kind of thinking can be a lot more hurtful and damaging than the simple comment “there is no such thing as an honest business person.” Damaging to oneself as it is to others.
In conclusion, let me quote something Michelle MacPherson said, a marketer I admire a lot, which sums it all up beautifully:
“If you don't take responsibility for your own actions in life and instead hand that responsibility (in the form of blame) to someone else, you have no power (you've effectively given that power to someone else, since it's ‘not your fault'). If you have no power, you'll never have success — you'll just spend your days blaming others for your lack thereof.”
Thanks for listening.
P.S.: What do you think of the new blog design? Just a larger font, more whitespace, and less “busyness.” It's based on your feedback, which I appreciate immensely.
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.