In a recent blog post, web designer and social media specialist Judi Knight offered an intriguing tip regarding email newsletters. She said, “People want to know what new things you have to offer, but these messages should be offerings of love and connection rather than a sales job.”

That enlightened attitude got me thinking about the bad rap that “salesy” marketers have gotten over the years, and how the field seems to be evolving.

There’s always been persuasive power in the skillful use of words, especially when combined with an understanding of the audience’s internal hot buttons. Not just for marketers, but also for politicians, and on a more general level, anyone who needs the complicity of others to reach their own goals.

So what’s really changed? Since the marketplace isn’t getting any less cluttered, we still need strategies to attract and convince consumers and business buyers. But instead of simply “making them buy,” the aim these days seems to be “making them think.”

Any sales transaction, by it’s very nature, implies some after-the-sale benefit for both buyer and seller. What seems to have shifted, in this era of blogging and Content Marketing, is that the seller is offering something valuable before the sale. Namely, thoughtful information and insights that help the shopper make their own smart decisions, to reach their own goals.

So what I think Judi was driving at, is a genuine sense of caring that other humans get their needs met, vs. just obsessing about our own sales stats. Her “connection” recognizes that we’re all in this together, as opposed to an “us and them” mentality.

Of course, our web product pages can get away with more of a persuasive slant than our blog posts and newsletters. But I’m finding that even those product pages benefit by being educational, by explaining why we arrived at our particular solution to a problem. Instead of just boasting about our product with an abundance of adjectives, this approach shows respect, by offering the intelligent web visitor a chance to adopt our perspective…or not.

As marketers have always known, we can be canny, but we can’t forcibly persuade anyone to buy from us. But what we’re finding now is, if we get people to buy into our approach, then they’ll persuade themselves that we’re the right choice for them. A new set of selling skills for a new day.

While our content is expected to be overall honest and authentic, people online are smart enough to understand that we’re trying to sell something. The important thing is that we not misrepresent our products or our competitors’ products, and not over-promise. And when product results are subject to mitigating factors (i.e., the item being used properly and consistently), that should be made clear.

But even when we’re trying to be persuasive, that visitor has the benefit of knowing the source of the message, and can judge it accordingly. So overall, doing our persuasive best doesn’t bother me. But when a blogger gives a glowing review of a product, without mentioning that they have an affiliate arrangement, that bothers me. When a media outlet runs a story “sponsored” by a vested interest, and presents it as their own view, that bothers me. Because I don’t know its true source, the ability to accurately judge that information has been taken away.

In any case, we’re all marketing something, in an era when we all seem more resentful of marketing than we used to be, and that’s an issue worth addressing.

The thing that’s really changed, I believe, is that we’re just more resentful of irrelevant marketing. Fast-forwarding through TV commercials is a case in point. However, to use another offline example, readers of home-and-garden magazines report that they actually like looking at the ads. Because they pertain to what the reader is already interested in.

So maybe the new ethics of marketing is about staying focused on what the reader has already expressed interest in. Since the marketplace isn’t getting any less cluttered, we need to adapt our persuasive powers to show those people the relevance of our solutions. And we need to do it with a genuine sense of caring and partnership. If we’re successful at meeting the needs of the folks out there, both before and after the sale, our revenue needs should be met by default.

Perhaps the connection point is closer to the buyer’s side of the table than it used to be. Perhaps consumers today can tell the difference between an authentic brand that cares about people, and a salesy brand that cares just about profit.

Perhaps we’re making progress after all.

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