In the online marketing space where we’re selling people a product or service that’s based on transformation, on getting a result, what are our ethical obligations?
I know this is a heavy question, but I think it’s worth discussing.
I’ve said before that we’re not responsible for the results of our students. We’re responsible for providing the information and tools they need to be equipped with. But to what extent do we have responsibility for the decisions that we make as marketers?
This is an important issue to talk about because when I listen to the conventional wisdom, people tell us that we don’t have to take responsibility for a lot of things. The question is, have we taken it too far?
What if how we market our products and services is the only reason that some of our students signed up? What if you make a promise and present the results as a foregone conclusion?
Sure, you may have a disclaimer in small print that you can’t guarantee results. But does your messaging, your webinar, and your email sequence suggest that the results are a foregone conclusion if you just do the work? If you present things that way, does that raise a special obligation on your part?
The Ethical Value Of Taking Responsibility
One of the ethical values that the American Marketing Association promotes is responsibility. It means that we need to accept the consequences of our marketing decisions and strategies.
As we build our business and our influence grows, we should acknowledge that that comes with social obligations. We should also recognize that we have a special duty when marketing to vulnerable segments, such as children and seniors. It means that we need to commit to doing things the right way.
There are basic values that we need to uphold as marketers. But this brings us back to the question of to what extent do we have to take responsibility for the results that our customers get?
I think it does raise a special obligation on our part if we actually say what they’ll get and present things as if they will get the results as long as they do the work.
We’re in a different position if we tell them that it’s going to depend on a lot of different factors and there’s no guarantee it’s going to work for them. If we warn people off and they join anyway, it’s not on us.
What happens, though, generally, is that people are making big promises with their sales copy because that’s the effective way to convince people to buy your products or sign up for your services.
Think about it… If your marketing decisions, your strategies, your copy, and your promises convinced someone to join your program, is it really fair at that point for you to say, “But it’s not my responsibility?”
The American Marketing Association would say no, but you have to decide for yourself.
Every Marketing Decision Has Consequences
Let’s take a look at some particular situations to see how every decision we make in marketing has consequences.
Limited Cart Open Periods
If you choose to only have an open cart for your product once a year for one week, that’s a decision you can make. There’s nothing right or wrong about it, and there’s no ethical impact.
The ethical implications come, however, for example, when people sign up knowing they’re not ready because they don’t want to wait a year based on fear of missing out (FOMO).
If you provide ongoing never-ending support, it’s not that big of a deal. But if you have a limited support period and that’s all the support they get, do you have some responsibility to be very clear and tell them not to join if they’re not ready now?
Focusing On A Single Product
A lot of advice in the online space says to focus on a single product, but I don’t think this is actually a good idea.
I get that we can’t focus on everything, but one product doesn’t make a business. Businesses are made by having a portfolio of products and revenue streams from different sources.
Focusing on one product can create some ethical issues for you. For example, if you have one product, there will naturally be people who aren’t ready or who are too advanced.
Let’s say people who aren’t ready for your product are asking you whether they should buy. What are your duties there?
What if your one product packages up multiple things and some people only need part of it. What is your responsibility?
Giving A Sales Presentation
If you do a masterclass, a video series, a challenge, or a launch event and you presented it as something incredibly valuable, then people come in not realizing that it’s actually a sales presentation and get mad at you, to what extent should you have been clear up front?
If you choose not to be very clear that it’s a sales presentation, you can’t really be mad that people get grumpy when you try to sell to them. That was your decision, and you need to take responsibility for your decisions. That’s my opinion.
Every Decision We Make Comes with Consequences
I’m not saying that we’re one hundred percent responsible for the results our customers get. We’re not. There’s no doubt that we rely on our students to take action.
But we need to recognize that we carry some responsibility for our students because of the way we chose to market and present our promise. I think it’s time to own up to that.
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