Black Hats Are For Magicians, Not Marketers

Whatever happened to sales and marketing?

Simple question, I know. But think about it. How many businesses have you come across lately spouting the latest and greatest trick, tactic, or cashgrab?

You’ve heard of the saying, “Hate the game, not the player?” I’ve heard this many times too, and lately I seem to hear it a lot within our industry.

When my wife, Sylvie Fortin, wrote Internet Marketing Sins, her premise was similar. She said, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” But her reasoning was, she wanted to expose, focus on, and provide alternative solutions to specific practices and behaviors, without fingerpointing anyone.

However, the more I think about it, the more I’m coming to the conclusion that the player worries me more than the game itself. And here’s why…

Because there is so much potential for misuse and abuse — even when the strategy may be, at its core, sound. (On the Internet, that potential has grown exponentially.)

Take forced continuity or upsells, for example. These strategies are not in and of themselves bad. They have legitimate and ethical uses. They can become useful tools in one’s marketing arsenal.

However, it’s their misuse and abuse that are problematic.

Some unscrupulous marketers are literally turning what may have once been normal, ethical, and intelligent strategies into nothing more than mere games. Games marketers play.

And like it or not, it’s affecting us all.

I know this is not going to sit well with some people.

But after being in this business for more than a decade now, I have come to the belief that making money using tricks is mostly if not always short term, let alone shortsighted.

On the one end, business models based on tricks are always short-term cashgrabs that will never result in any long-term, residual income and sustainable business growth.

On the other, selling using tricks are often slick attempts at selling a product that’s either worthless or unable to sell itself based on its own merits. Products people wouldn’t want, much less buy, otherwise.

Think of a magic show. How entertained would you be if you really knew how magicians carried out their tricks?

Tricks amaze and mesmerize because they leave the audience wondering “how did they do that?” They are meant to make us think they are legitimate. They leave us wondering.

But it’s all smoke-and-mirror, sleight-of-hand illusions.

The Internet makes this process so easy to do — and with so much potential for it being abused — because you have more control over what your customer sees, does, and gets. You can easily force your customer to jump through your hoops.

For example, take “upsell hell.” This is the process where, after someone buys a product and before they are presented with a confirmation that their order went through (let alone the product they paid for), they are cornered with one upsell offer after another.

Once they’ve decided to go ahead, reached the shopping cart, and entered their credit card details in other words, that’s when the abuse starts.

So many marketers out there have this “gotcha” attitude once their customers reach this point. They look at their customers as numbers. As floating, faceless, nameless wallets. They look at them as conversion rates, sales numbers, clickthroughs, etc.

(I know this personally. I’ve encountered many a marketer who practically laugh at how easy it is for them to make money using such tactics.)

And that’s sad.

Same thing with forced continuity. The abuse of forced continuity, specifically hidden continuity or sleight-of-hand continuity, is downright abusive.

Sure, we can say “buyer beware” and pay homage to the Legal Caveat Emptor Gods.

But when you hold your customer hostage, even after this customer has read all your copy, has invested time and effort in deciding on whether to buy or not (i.e., whether to trust you or not), has studied all the fine print, and has done all their due diligence, and you remove all choices from their purchase decision, it’s no longer the customer’s fault.

And another contention I have is with those who say “but it works.”

Of course, it works. Holding a gun to someone’s head and asking for their money works, too. But when something works doesn’t mean it’s right. Plus, your customer has made a significant, psychological investment up to that point, and feels they can’t leave because:

  1. They want to make sure their order went through,
  2. They want what they paid for (who would’ve thunk it?),
  3. They’ve invested their trust in the person or business making the offer,
  4. They hate being wrong (we all do, and marketers know it),
  5. They don’t know if it’s a scam until the transaction is complete, and
  6. They’re stuck and afraid to leave because they’d hate losing control over their credit card information without getting what they paid for, even if they get fed up and would prefer to abandon their shopping carts at that point.

So does it work? Absolutely! It has no choice but to.

If there’s one lesson I want to offer here, it’s that you should stop focusing on tactics, tricks, shortcuts, techniques, etc. In short, stop focusing on playing games — whether it’s an attempt at gaming systems, websites, businesses, or, above all, customers.

I mean this for both business models and marketing processes.

For example, forget things like “Twitter Cash,” “Google Ninja,” “Black Hat Magic Machine,” “Mega Social Media Money,” etc. (I made those up, but you get the gist. My apologies if they do exist. Any semblance was purely unintentional.)

Black hats are for magicians.

Also, forget things like NLP, mind control, myriad upsells, hidden continuity, etc.

Instead, start focusing on developing solid businesses and meaningful relationships through long-term, ethical, value-driven products and strategies. Because these are the ones that will make you more money than you’ve ever dreamed possible.

When I was writing copy full-time, I was amazed by the subtle tricks and split-test results that would help increase sales for my clients. Things like testing different colors, different positions of graphics, different fonts, different colored backgrounds.

Small, insignificant changes that resulted in small bumps in response.

But in my experience, I have found that the most significant increases in sales — the ones that would make dramatic boosts in conversions — typically occurred when:

  1. You are targeting the right audience for your offer.
  2. You have the appropriate message for that audience.
  3. You make it easier for people to buy from you.

The more wildly different the tests were, the greater the results they gave. Look at it this way: small changes often resulted in small improvements. Big changes often resulted in big improvements. Especially when those changes were focused on your customers.

Similarly, I think long-term business comes down to three principal components:

  1. Solve problems,
  2. Sell solutions,
  3. Serve customers.

Simple, isn’t it?

So I ask again, whatever happened to good, old-fashioned sales and marketing? I mean, whatever happened to making money creating value and selling what people really want?

I’ve heard some marketers, especially those who teach black-hat stuff, say that marketing is just one big game, and to succeed you need to play along.


It doesn’t have to be a game unless you decide to play. What I’m saying is that you don’t have to. If you do, you are literally forcing others to play along with you, too. And like most games, there’s always a winner and a loser.

Whatever happened to win-win?

Granted, attempt to game systems or customers, and you might be successful for a while. But they’ll eventually grow wise to your tactics. Either they will change and you lose out on the long-term, or you kill it for the rest of us.

Most marketers who teach such tactics don’t really care, because they’ve used the same strategies, saturated the market, and made their money. Once they start teaching their tricks to others, by and large such tactics have outgrown their usefulness for the marketer.

In other words, the moment some “guru” teaches a specific tactic, oftentimes it is outdated the moment they are taught.

And now, by teaching it to others and thus proliferating its usage, they are leaving more and more footprints to be discovered and penalized by the systems, and the customers, they were trying to game in the first place.

I know this for a fact because I’ve heard it from some top marketers. Some even do so willingly and strategically, knowing full well that by having others duplicate their “tricks” will eventually kill off their competition.

I’ve said this many times before…

Make money not at the expense of others but at the service of others.

The former will make you money. The latter, wealthy.

Sadly, however, the former gets more attention.

Perhaps it’s the recession. Perhaps it’s just me. I don’t know. But one thing I do know is, we are all starting to look like scammy, smarmy, snake-oil salesmen just hustling for a quick buck — if we’re not already.

Whether the recession is to blame or not, I also know that I’m getting more and more disenchanted, even disgusted, with what our industry is becoming and how it’s being perceived. An industry I once loved and enjoyed… An industry I was once very proud to be in… An industry, sad to say, I’m getting less and less passionate about.

And if you think it’s just me, think again. With the a growing number of alphabet agencies swooping in, slapping a few marketers on their wrists, and instituting new laws and regulations making it harder and harder for anyone to market online…

… I fear that one day the Internet marketing industry will be…

“Game over.”

About The Author

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Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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