Machiavellian marketing methods.
They’re not pretty, but they work.
Machiavellianism is the use of cunning or duplicity, like the Italian Renaissance diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince, a dark and cynical book that utterly discards morality to focus on self-interest and personal gain.
Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and many other business empires use these tactics – methods you may know nothing about – to engineer the subconscious and manipulate consumers into buying.
Whether the end truly justifies the means or not, the Father of Modern Politics taught us a lot about realism. In a society that honored idealistic utopia’s and Golden Age musings, he preferred the cold reality of what actually produced results.
The following marketing methods are time-tested instruments of conversion-theft, social engineering, and deliberate realism which follow a machiavellian understanding of the business world.
I hate it as much as you do, but this is the world we live in. It’s not enough to be fair, hard-working, and dedicated to giving the best you have to offer. You need to be cunning, like the fox, knowing the truth and using it to your advantage.
Brace yourself – it might get ugly.
Method #1 – Recon
Joseph Duveen was one of the world’s most successful international art dealers. He carved his monumental success out of this single insight: “Europe has a great deal of art, and America has a great deal of money.” He sold millions to the self-made entrepreneurs of America, convincing them that buying art was essentially buying an upper-class status.
By 1940, he had expanded his million-dollar monopoly beyond contention. But there was one famous collector who refused to be seduced. Andrew Mellon, a monopolistic mogul in his own right, had made it clear he would have nothing to do with the silver-tongued Sir Duveen, and this elusive prey became Duveen’s obsession.
He spent several years learning about the enemy he would befriend, and even paid Mellon’s employee’s in exchange for information about Mellon; his values, family matters, likes, hates, frustrations, and especially his taste in art.
After years of study and observation, Duveen made a risky but calculated move.
His spies had informed him that Mellon was visiting London and was currently staying in a suite on the third floor of Claridge’s Hotel.
By collaborating with Mellon’s valet, he set up a coincidental run-in at the National Gallery, and struck up a casual conversation with his mark. By this point, he knew Mellon better than he knew himself, and as they talked about the various pieces of art, Mellon was surprised at how much they had in common, at how refined this man’s artistic palate seemed to be.
By the end of their meeting, they had arranged to visit Duveen’s exclusive gallery in New York (which had been filled with a precise inventory that would appeal to Mellon’s tastes), where Mellon inevitably became Duveen’s most generous client.
Here’s the moral.
Kautilya, an Indian philosopher from the third century BC, said, “Rulers see through spies, as cows through smell, Brahmins through scriptures and the rest of the people through their normal eyes.”
One of the things that separates the mom ‘n’ pops from the heavy hitters of the industry is the ability to observe the actions of consumers and competitors alike, and use that information wisely and ethically.
The information gathered can be converted into bait, to attract more people to their landing page, and thus increase conversions.
► Tap the phone line. I’m kidding. That would be illegal and just a little bit creepy. Let’s take that down a notch or two by using local call ID. Using a local caller ID boosts conversions by increasing the number of answered phone calls by 40%.1
► Track your visitors. Cookies are the OG’s of the digital surveillance trade, but computer fingerprinting is quickly becoming the go-to. Computer fingerprinting shows each visitor’s unique information, including their name and recent (or not so recent) website behavior. With that information, you can suggest a product or service they’re most likely to buy based off of their view history, or bring them to your landing page with content they’re interested in.
► Observe their email actions. Email analytics reveals some brilliant pieces of data, including the links your readers clicked on, which emails they opened, and how long they spent reading each email. I don’t think I need to tell you how vital that kind of digital recon is.
► Spy vs Spy. It’s smart to track who’s watching you, and figuring out why. Kissmetrics and computer fingerprinting are great for your website, but what about social media profiles? LinkedIn premium will show you who’s been stalking you, and most social media sites have profile watchers as well, so you can spy on your spy.
► Keep your enemies close. Sun Tzu said “If you know your enemy, and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” If you don’t know what your competitor’s doing, how will you counter attack? Watching a strong competitor is like having a personal marketing advisor. You just don’t have to pay them.
Method #2 – Buying Marketing Lists
Is it unethical? Maybe.
Is it legal? That’s a tough call as well.
But by the end of this section, trust me, you’ll be a fan, because we’re going to focus on the clean and honorable way to acquire marketing lists.
Buying a marketing list may be the best thing you’ve ever done for your business, hands down. In summary, it’ll boost your conversions by triple digits, because of OPM (Other People’s Marketing-Lists in this case).
The First Rule of Marketing List Acquisition
Don’t spend your hard-earned cash on a marketing or email list. Keep your cash handy for other things (like hiring an accountant to manage the cash you’ll be drowning in after applying these marketing methods).
Quality marketing lists and leads aren’t bought with money – they’re bartered for.
It’s called joint venture marketing: an agreement between two businesses where both organizations combine marketing strategies to increase their market share and revenues.
DIY: The Rest of the Rules for Acquiring Marketing Lists
1. Choose your content wisely.
I’ve had people ask me to introduce their product and content to my email list, when I was already selling the same thing! Why would I trade full profit for a 50-50 split? Be aware of your prospective partner’s offerings. Choose a product or service that’ll not only NOT cannibalize their sales, but will expand their territory, while pulling in an attractive profit.
2. Reach out to a prospective partner with good etiquette.
Your best chance is to contact people you have some kind of connection to, and it’s always a good idea to mention that connection (unless it’s stupid-obvious, like “you’re my step-mom, so…”). The better the connection, the more likely you are to land the partnership. Start with your closest prospects, and practice on family and friends. Once you’ve mastered the art, take a page from Duveen’s methodology by strategically observing people with a strong digital influence (and email list), and befriending them.
2. Describe your product and especially the value it brings to the table.
Name it, summarize it, and take plenty of time to explain the benefits your partner’s audience will get from it. Focus on how your content is relevant, unique and highly valuable.
5. Be generous.
Give them at least a 50% cut, unless you’re offering a high-dollar item like a conference, seminar, or webinar series. For these, a 15%-25% commission should do.
6. Funnel the crowd to your territory.
Even if your main goal is to sell a product or service, you should always put major emphasis on a call to action that brings them to a relevant landing page or squeeze page. This way you’re adding their list to your’s permanently. Do that enough and you won’t even need to barter for other people’s lists.
Warning: Never start a partnership or joint promotion with someone you don’t trust completely, and never promote a product you don’t believe in. It’s that type of betrayal that can ruin your reputation and poison your relationships.
However, when you choose a trustworthy person with a valuable product, you’ll achieve the opposite – a stronger reputation, and solid relationships with the people who trust you to bring them nothing but the best.
To learn how to generate revenue from the attendees who didn’t buy, read:
Not sure how to build a digital sales funnel?
I’ve got you covered:
Method #3 – Does the Tall Tale Make the Sale?
This is, unfortunately, a true story but I have changed the product and the names.
The following is a conversation that happened to a friend while training for a sales position (for a Fortune 500 company whose name I’m keeping mum):
Sales agent Jill: “Yes sir, we’ve been providing the highest quality marketing to clients (half a million currently) since 1886. That’s over a century of experience in the field.”
Prospect Jack: “Wow, not bad… but what about the negative reviews I read on [online review website]?”
Jill: “I totally understand where you’re coming from, but check this out – if you search that same website for [lists a number of reputable businesses], you’ll see they have horrible ratings too. People get on this site to rant about even the best and most trustworthy businesses, so it can hardly be called a “review” site. It’s more like a place where people get to let loose on a business when they’ve had a less than satisfying experience.”
Jack: “Gotcha. So tell me little more about the product? How does it get me new customers again?”
Jill: “Yeah, no problem – basically, we have a patented software that gives us the ability to track the conversation people are having on the internet – we listen in on that conversation, and track down the people looking for your services. Then, we communicate with them on your behalf, by taking your business information, the information that sets you apart from your competitors and gives your customers a solid reason to choose you over everyone else, and putting that in front of them. So essentially, we put your best foot forward and do our best to convince them that you’re the best for the job.”
Jack: “So how much is this going to run me for?”
Jill proceeds to collect Jack’s billing information and successfully close the deal, after informing him his investment is 100% refundable.
Let’s take a look behind the scenes, and into the complete picture.
► Painting a Positive Image. It’s true the business had first been established in 1886, but since then it had gone bankrupt multiple times, and was in fact on the verge of another bankruptcy following a merge with another failing business.
Although “a little over a century in the field” was somewhat accurate, it really depends on which field we’re talking about. For the first 70 years of business, the company’s marketing was limited to a single product that cornered a microscopic slice of the marketing market.
► The Objection. What the salesperson said was true, but it’s only one side of the story. There were hundreds of positive reviews on the site as well.
► The Product. This was a very creative description of a marketing tool we all know well – Google Adwords. Because it was described in an accurate but exclusively unique manner, the prospect was held captive long enough for the agent to persuade him and make the sale. If the pitch had described Google Adwords in the conventional way, the prospect would have simply hung up.
► 100% Refundable? Not so much. The wording made it true by technicality, but the money couldn’t be returned – at least not in the way Jack expected. It would be “refunded” to his marketing fund, to be redistributed to another campaign within the company. Kind of like getting store credit on a return.
As you can see, weaving tall tales can raise some fairly gargantuan ethical concerns, but there’s still a valuable lesson here.
Telling the best version of the truth results in a higher conversion rate. In my personal opinion, this salesperson took a running leap over the ethical line, but she not only made the sale – her client was happy because in the end, the product delivered.
The ends may have justified the means in this case, but that’s not the moral of the story.
The truth is, successful business owners willingly give up huge portions of their budget to people they can trust to communicate the best side of their company.
That doesn’t mean you should lie and deceive people into buying your product – it means you should strive to offer the best, and never shy from putting that best in the limelight.
► Recommended Reading: Learn How to Use Persuasion in Marketing: 15 Persuasive Techniques to Apply Today
► Another Recommended Read: “Discover How to Create a Mega-Successful Offer that Drive Sales Like Crazy”
► And Yet Another! “How to Create a Profitable Webinar Hook (and Where to Use It)”
Method #4 – Conversion Thievery
Here’s a story from another story from a person I had the pleasure of working with:
“It was late November, 2001. Unemployment was maxing out; people were throwing around dark speculations and Great Depression jargon like they knew what they were talking about, and I was working as an executive in a well-known marketing agency, counting my minimum-wage blessings. (Okay, it wasn’t that bad – but it could’ve been better!)
Unbeknownst to him, he was about to get a marketing lesson of a lifetime. His mentor was prepping to show him the marketing tactic that had increased the company’s annual conversion rate by 227% (I may be a percent or two off, but I know it was in the 220’s).
It was simple he said.
By the end of our 12-hour day, they had stolen 2 sizable contracts from their largest competitor. Keep in mind, they had been building a relationship with these clients for about a month. This was the closing day.
Here’s how they stole clients from the competition. This was how they did, as well as I can remember.
► We spied on our competitors.
Maybe a better word is reconnaissance. Our recon led us to a gold mine in the form of a recent and somewhat colossal security breach in our competitor’s system. Thousands of accounts were broken and bared naked by a clever hacker. We knew the security breach was a scrumptious recipe for frustrated customers.
► We asked.
We knew why they were mad, but we asked anyway. It only took a question or two to get them on a rant, which gave us the opportunity to offer a better solution. But we didn’t.
► We befriended.
Most people don’t respond well to thievery of any sort. Even if they knew our service was better, a direct approach about stealing them from our competitor would’ve raised an instinctual red flag.
Instead of going straight for the jugular, we courted them – befriended them in a business sense. We gave them some valuable strategic insights and even gave them access to one of our most powerful marketing tools at no charge. We all knew there was a possibility of working together down the road, but we were willing to wait. We called them from time to time, connected on LinkedIn, and we sent them information we knew they’d be interested in based off of their web history and previous conversations. After a little over a month, we knew the time was right.
► We closed.
How did we know the right time? They told us. Not directly, but indirectly, by giving us buying signals. We had their attention, we’d earned their interest and trust, and we knew they needed a better solution. So finally, we set up a meeting to discuss the possibility of working together, and the day we met was the day we stole a new client.
Do you steal customers from your competitors? I like to think there’s plenty to go around, but know that your competitors are probably looking for a way to steal your best customers. Whether you choose to take the militant approach on marketing or not, always be aware.”
► Recommended Reading: 9 Sneaky Tools You Can Use to Improve Your Marketing (make sure you read #7 and steal your competitor’s emails!)
Method #5 – The Infamous Bait and Switch
It’s the red-headed stepchild of the sales and marketing world, and has been for some time.
But let me dig into the preachy truth – just for a second.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a marketer talk about how unethical the bait and switch method is, I’d be rich, and if I got a dollar every time I smelled the rotting breath of a hypocrite (or at least a naive little bugger) whilst listening to those rants, I’d be doubly rich.
Every successful marketer uses the bait and switch to boost conversions.
That said, there are varying levels of the tactic, and no one should ever offer a product that doesn’t exist, just to bait customers to the actual offer.
But think about the last time you pulled into a drive through with “2 for $2.22” on your mind, only to drive away with $8 worth of upsells.
“Would you like to supersize that?”
Our world is littered with the bait and switch.
► Restaurants take a cut on deals like “2 for $2.22”, knowing they’ll get plenty of profit when they successfully switch customers from the bait, to high profit-margin fries and soda upsells.
► Grocery stores go into the red on certain items by selling them at ridiculously low prices, but the “switch-profit” comes from the items they’ve kept the same or marked up. If everybody bought nothing but the specials, these stores would go bankrupt in a matter of years.
► What about that great action movie with your favorite actor showing up for a piddly 30-second scene?
► Or what about the financial black-hole of the video game world known as Skylanders, which costs as little as $19 for the starter pack (also known as BAIT), and maxes out at over $600 once your kid has collected all of the characters and their variants (each of which are designed to have the pokemon, crack-cocaine sort of addiction to “own them all!”)?
And… I’m all preached out. The point is simple.
If people need to chum the water to tempt the fish to bite, they’re not cheating – they’re trying.
And isn’t that the point of the game?
The more attractive the bait, the more people will flock to your landing page. Again, I’m not saying you should offer a non-existent free Macbook, then lead them to a landing page selling something else. That’s not only unethical, it just doesn’t work.
There’s plenty of stupid ways to bait and switch, but I think you know exactly what not to do.
Speaking of which – if you love webinars as much as I do, you’ll want to read “10 Unique Baits to Get People to Flock to Your Webinar”!
Method #6 and #.7 – The Art of Invisibility
This is the tale of the uber-landing page.
Advertorials have taken a few hits, one of the most notorious being this shameless Scientology plug posted on the Atlantic (which was quickly removed with a series of rapid-fire apologies when people caught on and crucified them for it):
Google’s Matt Cutts has preached his fair share against the evils of the poorly constructed advertorial, but it’s worth more than an honorable mention (and is, in fact, nearly twice as important as the rest of the methods), and I’ll tell you why.
The advertorial is arguably the best converter in digital advertising, and using one to funnel leads to your landing page(s) can catapult your conversion rate far above your competitors, as ALDI proved with their advertorial campaign:
This chart shows how Aldi’s advertorial achieved the best-ever purchase intention score amongst The Irish Times readers.
One of the first (and most important) things you’ll learn in any sales, advertising, or marketing position is to never, ever talk like a salesperson. Never create an ad that looks like an ad. Never launch a marketing campaign that looks, feels and smells like a marketing campaign.
Yes, most people instinctively know when they’re being sold to, but when it’s done correctly, it doesn’t feel like it. And that’s the key to better conversions.
Good marketing doesn’t feel like marketing, and great marketing is utterly invisible.
It’s common sense. Why clobber people with the blunt object of banner ads and TV commercials, when you can offer them your good or service while providing them with quality information?
But like every good Scientologist knows, with great invisibility comes great responsibility, and if you suck at it, you’ll get laughed at.
So if you choose the cloak and dagger route, be smart about it and model your native advertising after the expert examples below.
Also, if you’re doubting the native advertising model, here’s some stats that prove their worth:
► Just under half of all consumers don’t know what native advertising is.
► Forbes makes $50,000 to $100,000 per advertorial.
► 41% of US brands use native advertising as part of wider promotional efforts.
► Three out of four publishers offer native advertising on their sites.
► 90% of publishers already have, or plan to launch a native advertising campaign. 2
Sarah Sluis from AdExchanger, gives us some insight into Huffington Post’s native marketing strategy (their native marketing revenue grew by 347% in a single year):
The marketing here is so invisible only the most trained eye can pick it out. Can you find Chipotle’s agenda?
Hint: It has very little to do with beaver poo.
Let’s look at an easier to spot native advertisement from Forbes, and their take on the advertorial:
Forbes’ advertorial is a bit more straightforward thanks to the BrandVoice giveaway at the top, but how many people pay attention to that sort of thing?
Here’s two more before our final word.
A more or less brilliant piece of handcrafted advertorial art, by the Onion Lab’s creative agency:
And Fast Company’s native ad, crafted for UPS (see how they let you know it’s an advertisement?):
Writing a sticky advertorial is an art, and the principles you’ll read in “9 Ways to Keep Webinar Attendees Engaged Until the End” will equip you with the knowledge to create any kind of highly effective, sticky content, including native ads.
A Final Word
If Machiavelli taught marketing – and if you think about it, he kind of did – I think he would’ve left us with something like this:
► Where the marketer’s willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.
► There is no avoiding brand war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.
► Never was any great marketing campaign achieved without danger.
► For the prince, it is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. For the marketing entrepreneur, it is better to be invisible than in the spotlight, but you better do both.
► The entrepreneur who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command the subconscious.3
Now that you’re equipped with the most machiavellian marketing methods the interweb has to offer, the choice is yours – you can use them responsibly and ethically, or have nothing to do with them aside from knowing the tactics, and using that awareness to help you combat the darker side of marketing.
If you’re the type who considers business a battlefield, where rules of engagement are more of a guideline than anything else, you may even decide to take full advantage of these methods.
Either way, I’ll leave you with this.
When you put apple seeds in the ground, you get apples.
If you spread the seed of thorns, your land will yield thorn bushes.
When you keep your customer’s needs at the forefront of your actions, you’re sowing seeds that’ll produce something you can be proud of.
If you choose to use these marketing methods, it should be with the intention of helping as many people as possible, with the best product or service you have at your disposal.
That’s the best lens to view these methods through:
► Recon and Espionage
► Bartering For Other People’s Marketing
► Tall Tales or the Best Version of the Truth
► Conversion Thievery
► The Infamous Bait and Switch
► Invisibility: Native Advertising and Advertorials
3. You can read what he actually said here.
Have you ever used any of these strategies? If so, which ones and how did they work out for you?