Can Marketing Be Honest AND Motivating?

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🗓️ Publish Date
May 4, 2006
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Most of us who aren't Marketers have a dim view of Marketing. Yet here we are, non-Marketers, thinking about marketing. We have something we believe in that we want to promote. But we don't want to be dishonest or unethical. But what if we're like competitive athletes...where we're at a disadvantage if we're trying to run naturally and fairly while everyone else is on steroids?


If we don't claim that our product or service will get them rich, famous, or laid... we still need to think about motivation. We can be both honest AND motivating, but we can't assume that being honest is inherently motivating. Since our focus here is "passionate users", I'm making these assumptions:

1) There is something your product, service, or cause can help your users kick butt in. Something they can keep getting better and better at, where better means a higher-resolution experience. Where being better is better.

2) You are already working on ways to help your users pass the "Suck Threshold" and move more quickly toward the "Kick Ass" threshold. In other words, there are ways (either from you or a user community or third-party) for the user to keep learning.

[Note for those who haven't yet figured out what you can help your users kick ass in: that's the first crucial step. And remember, it's almost never about making them more of an expert on your tool, it's about helping them get really good at whatever it is they do with your tool. Nikon's tutorials aren't about making camera experts, they're making photography experts. Parelli horsemanship isn't making experts on training equipment, they're making expert horse trainers. Apple's iLife products aren't making software experts, they're making home video, photography, and music experts. (Yes, I'm using "expert" in the sense that even if most people never get there, the promise is that it's possible.)

And it isn't always directly related to what you offer. We've talked about this before--the guy who makes USB thumb drives, for example, could choose to help teach users to give kick-ass presentations.]

So, what's the initial motivation for someone to take the first step with your product, service, or cause? Why should they download your free trial? Why should they visit your gym/store/church for the first time? Marketers and Advertisers might delve into the psychology of human needs to answer that question (maybe a spin through some variation of Maslow's hierarchy), to figure out which they can tap into, but we think there's a simpler way to look at it.

The most common reason people take the first step toward something they may ultimately develop a passion for is because these THREE things are present:

1) There is a clear, compelling picture of what it might be like to be an expert (or at least really good) at this thing.

2) There is a clear path to getting there.

3) There is an obvious and relatively easy first step.

If you show me an example of what it could mean to be really good at this thing-you-can-help-me-kick-ass-in, I might find that motivating. Whether it's photos of people doing it, or the result of what they do using your thing, or video clips, or testimonials (users talking about how they kick ass, not how great you or your product are).

But it doesn't matter how motivating it looks to become really good at this if I can't imagine that I--a mere mortal--could ever get there. You must show me a realistic path to getting there. Do you have tutorials or training at all levels including total newbie? User support groups? Descriptions of each stage and what it takes to reach that stage, both financially (if that applies) and time/effort?

So, does your product, service, or cause need to be motivating? Not necessarily. But the thing-you-will-help-users-kick-ass-in needs to be. We assume that someone, somewhere loves being really good at whatever it is that you can help people get into and get better at. Whatever it is that they love about it, that is your motivating picture, even if it's nothing more than the glorious feeling of control I'll have when I've learned to use your productivity app in a meaningful, productive way.

It won't get them laid, it won't make them an instant millionaire, it won't help them lose 20 pounds (well, maybe that one could be true ; )But you don't need those claims if you're able to paint a clear, realistic picture of something people will find worth the effort of getting good.