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The Modern Marketing Machine: 6 reasons it’s Us vs. Them and how to win

I like marketing. I market my website. I market myself to potential employers. I marketed myself to my wife and she fortunately bought. I believe marketing helps us gain knowledge of products, services, and opportunities that we might not have otherwise known about.

Retro TV Commercial I believe marketers spend everyday trying to open our heads and rewire us to buy their stuff. I’m not cynical and I don’t think they are evil or bad people. However, as consumers we need to understand that they want our money and that it is Us vs. Them. My six reasons.

1) Discount pricing is a marketing ploy

I spent some time working at a major, national retailer. I’m not interested in pointing fingers, so let’s just call it Brand X. While working at Brand X, I was involved in many pricing conversations and observed the pricing process. We all know that stores use discount pricing as a means to incentivize you to buy now. I didn’t understand how deep that really runs though. For example, if a shirt or sweater costs the company $10 and they know from historical reports that consumers typically will only buy it at a price of $20, then they price it at $40. That way, they can discount it at 50% (oh my gosh! oh my gosh! oh my gosh!) and it will sell at the expected price of $20. Meaning, they don’t even expect you to pay $40! If you do buy it at $40, then you just lost. If you purchase at $20, not because you need the item but because you can’t pass up that great price, then you just lost.

2) They make us ask permission to buy from them

I’m borrowing this reason from Dave Ramsey and don’t take the credit myself. Banks, car dealerships, etc need us to buy from them in order for them to make money. And yet, we find ourselves asking them, and almost pleading at times, to take our business. They tell us that we’ve been “approved” so that we feel part of the club. “Honey, great news! The bank approved of us.” They put on a great dog and pony show to make us anxious that we might not get the “deal.” Stop and realize what is really being sold. Often, what’s being sold is enslaving amounts of debt. Liabilities, like cars, that masquerade as assets don’t make you happy. Money in the bank and peace of mind make you happy. Walk away next time someone tries to get you to say, “Please, can I have your stuff? Please, can I buy some debt?”

3) Research, research, research

Marketers spend a considerable amount of time learning their trade and then studying consumers’ behavior. Any good professional would. They track and analyze your buying and browsing behaviors, study psychology, and attempt to gain an intimate understanding of you. This is a double-edged sword. For example, Zappos.com is very customer centric. They are almost obsessively customer centric. They use an intimate knowledge of customers to better meet customers’ needs. But at the same time, these marketing departments use this knowledge to optimize the entire buying process to get you to buy. So what am I saying? Simply that marketers are constantly gaining new information about us and using that information to create extremely enticing advertisements. Just to put this effort into perspective, advertisers are expected to spend $242 BILLION on ads in 2009 alone. They have to recoup that investment and they expect to have us, the consumers, foot the bill. Don’t buy just because of the shiny ad.

4) They use fancy or technical names that confuse the issue

As the title suggests, a rowing machine is now a “1205 Precision Rower,” which sounds much cooler. Another example is the 12b-1 fee charged by some mutual fund companies. Rule 12b-1 was adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 1980 and allows fund companies to pay for sales and marketing activities by charging you a fee. This is in addition to the normal or stated expense ratio. It bothers me that fund companies charge consumers a marketing fee but don’t call it that. I understand that the name is derived from the SEC rule, but it is misleading to novice investors who are just starting out. Just call it a marketing fee so we can decide if we want to pay it.

5) “Where’s the pain?”

Target Prescription BottlesAnother double-edged sword. A good marketer asks and answers the question, “Where’s the pain?” If a marketer can understand the problem a consumer faces, then he or she can develop a campaign or product that addresses that problem. Target pharmacy bottles are an excellent example of a marketer adding value to a product. Several years ago, Target redesigned its pharmacy bottle to make it easier to open, identify the prescription, and know to which family member the prescription belongs using color coded cap rings. The added convenience is worthwhile. On the other end of the spectrum, think about all of those late night infomercials. They offer solutions to common problems via their products. But stop and think to yourself, “Yes the Magic Bullet makes life a little easier for me, but my blender works just fine. So I don’t really need it even though it is newer, nicer, faster, etc.” In other words, they may be offering something that solves a problem, but you just may not really need the problem solved (at least not at the expense of your retirement). So next time you go to buy a product that you really don’t need, decide to put the money into your retirement account instead.

6) Illegitimate or illegal marketing schemes

I don’t want to dwell much on this topic since my purpose with this post is to address legitimate marketing efforts. However, there are a lot of marketers of ill repute out there attempting to bypass the law and cause you to lose your money. If you suspect that an offer is too good or just doesn’t seem right, please avoid it. Also, you can check sites such as Scam.com, ScamBusters.org, Snopes.com, or the Better Business Bureau to see if others have reported the offer as a scam.

Conclusion

Let me reiterate an important point – I have nothing against marketers. I know a lot of them. They have families, homes, dogs, and probably some consumer debt themselves. But buyer beware. Every institution, firm, corporation, etc must maintain a healthy revenue stream and that revenue has to come from someone. See it as a game. You are allotted X number of dollars each month to support yourself and your lifestyle. Marketers setup storefronts where you can choose to spend your dollars. At the end of the game, the person or store with the most dollars wins. The more you keep to yourself, the greater your odds are of winning.

Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree.


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  • I agree! Marketing is a type of mind game, wherein a marketers try manipulate one’s mind in order to buy their products. And it is the question of being ethical or not. Most of the time, you can’t draw a line between an ethical marketing versus a scrupulous one. There’s a lot of reason about it. One thing that is certain, another marketing technique will evolve and surely will capture the attention of its intended audience.

  • I agree! Marketing is a type of mind game, wherein a marketers try manipulate one’s mind in order to buy their products. And it is the question of being ethical or not. Most of the time, you can’t draw a line between an ethical marketing versus a scrupulous one. There’s a lot of reason about it. One thing that is certain, another marketing technique will evolve and surely will capture the attention of its intended audience.

  • True! Consumers should be more vigilant and shouldn't believe everything they see. It is difficult to tell ethical from unethical marketing. So think about it before you decide to buy anything.

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