As online marketers, we share details about our products and services to convince people that they need them or that we can help them solve their problems. But how detailed do we need to be?
What are our obligations to tell people about all the things that might be relevant to their decision to buy our products or services? Do we need to tell them certain things that might make them decide they don’t want to buy?
There’s no simple one-size answer to this question, so I can’t just give you a definite answer. Instead, let’s have this hard discussion and you can decide for yourself what’s ethical.
Helping People With Problems
Most of us in the online marketing space are helping people with some kind of problem that they have or a change they want in their life. If the issue they want to solve had an easy solution, they probably would’ve solved it already.
In my case, when I’m helping people with marketing stuff, I tell them that it’s gonna be hard to build an online marketing business. But being honest about the challenges isn’t just for those in the marketing space. If you work with people who want to lose weight, you need to be upfront and tell them it’s gonna be hard.
Our Oligation To Say “This Is Hard” In Our Messaging, Communication, And Sales Process
I say this because, let’s be honest, a lot of people present their solutions as if they have an easy button that can solve everything. They might not use the word “easy,” but they might imply it by saying you only need to follow the step-by-step process and you’ll get the result.
We’ve all been trained to do that because it’s likely to increase sales. People want a magic pill and don’t want to do the work. You might justify it as giving your people what they want, an easy button. But my question is, where is the line?
In my opinion, it’s unethical to present a solution as if it’s going to be easy if it’s not. If you help people with something that’s easy to solve, fine. But it’s probably not going to be for long because people aren’t going to pay a lot for that.
People are willing to pay me as a business coach because building a business requires hard work. Personally, I don’t think there’s a gray area here. If I suggest that I have some secret strategy that’s gonna solve all of their problems and make things simple, we’ll, I’d be lying.
That’s why it’s important to ask yourself: are you presenting your product or offering your services in a way that gives people a false impression about how much work is involved?
Be Honest About The Effort
I think we could generally agree that lying is wrong and unethical (though there are times that a white lie is a perfectly ethical thing to do). So what does this mean for our marketing?
One of the rules of the American Marketing Association is “Do no harm.” I’d say that you’re violating that rule by presenting your solution as easy. When you present it as if you can make something simple and easy when it’s actually hard, you end up setting the wrong expectations. When people don’t achieve what you promised them, they lose hope.
Whereas, they could have actually gotten the results if they had been told that it would be hard. Instead, they experience hardship and think something’s wrong with them and they give up because you said it was easy. You’re doing harm by setting the wrong expectations.
As online marketers, we must foster trust in the marketing system. I believe that twisting the truth this way doesn’t promote trust.
Another ethical value from the AMA that we need to comply with is honesty. We should offer products of value that actually do what we claim. If you present your solution as an easy button when it’s going to be hard, you’re not presenting it honestly, and your product will not function as claimed.
I think if we’re honest with ourselves and do this kind of introspection, if we weren’t in the marketing world trying to make money, we probably wouldn’t do it.
If you’re asking my opinion, I think the ethical standard requires us to disclose that success is going to be hard. That’s the easiest thing to say, yet it’s something not a lot of people do. I believe that if we want to be ethical, marketers need to stop saying it’s going to be easy when it’s not.
Our Obligation To Tell People About Additional Requirements Or Expenses
If people are going to implement your system, is that going to require them to do other things or buy something else? Likewise, if we’re only helping them solve one small piece and we know there are 15 other pieces, what’s our obligation to tell them about those other pieces?
If people are going to make a big investment in your program, what is your obligation to tell them that they also need to invest in other things if they want to succeed?
Do we need to tell them they need a particular software, consult a lawyer, or talk to an accountant?
We can see the difference between presenting our thing as something that will help them versus the only solution they need. It’s a matter of omission, not commission. Is that a problem?
If someone directly asked you about investing in other things to make your solution work, and you lie, well, that’s unethical. But what if no one even asks? Do you have a duty to disclose that information even if you’re not asked?
This is a gray area that I think is up to you. When I consider why sellers aren’t talking about those things and omitting information, it sure looks like it’s because you’re afraid they might not buy your product.
Personally, I would want you to tell me that I will have to buy other stuff or learn other skills. That’s information that would affect my buying decision, so I think it should be disclosed.
Being Transparent That The Hardest Part Comes Next
What if you have an eight-week program that provides all the information. But then you have a back-end membership, the big part of which is helping people implement and get results for what you taught in the course. What are your obligations? Do you have a duty to tell people about it explicitly when they’re purchasing your course?
What if you know that the hardest part is what comes next? Would you want to know if you were a buyer? Is it information that you would want to know if you were on the other side? If so, I believe you should disclose it.
If you’re reluctant to disclose information because you’re worried people won’t buy, I would suggest that’s a sign that you’re putting your interest above theirs. Instead, you should disclose this information on the front end of the sales process.
Let’s Hear From You
I believe that it’s your obligation to tell people how hard it’s going to be, disclose other things they’re going to need, and inform them about a follow-up program. That means that you need to do the work of thinking about all these issues and determine your ethical standard.
I would love to hear from you. What are you thinking? How does this strike you? Is this making you think about things that you’re doing in your business?
In the meantime, you can learn more about building your online business the right way. Check out my free signature program, BADA$$ Online Marketing University.