Know. Like. Trust. Hah! More like: Compare. Despair. Click!
How the marketing funnel has been used to manipulate audiences
– and how to use human connection to regain the confidence of your future buyers
TLDR; this article will demystify some of the most well-known digital marketing strategies you’ve seen, maybe used in your own business, or inadvertently fallen victim to within the online business community over the last several years.
And it will introduce you to a new way of growing your business while keeping core values, human decency and consumer consent at the forefront of your marketing decisions.
Marketing is one of those topics that gets wildly misinterpreted in online business. Well, maybe not marketing per-se, but the way that “professionals” are using marketing to tell us to buy their products, services, masterminds, group programs, workshops, or any type of offering they’re selling.
We’ve been in an era of digital marketing that’s made it easier for businesses to engage with potential customers and be seen among multiple platforms - seemingly overnight.
On average, internet users spend 144 minutes on social media sites every day.
Interactions (swiping, typing, clicking, tapping) clock in daily at anywhere from 2,617 to 5,427 times each day.
It should come as no surprise that social media and email marketing have been the primary place for businesses to find more buyers for their products and services, and it’s not slowing down any time soon.
Today we find ourselves in a sea of perfectly positioned marketing campaigns, promotions and “free content” to help us achieve success, as portrayed by the heavy hitting marketing gurus in every niche - from stay at home mommy bloggers to tech & software companies.
Their winning strategy for sales isn’t always rooted in “good marketing that sells”; often it’s derived from who can portray success through marketing that invokes feelings of “less than” to make a sale.
A vicious marketing cycle that every small business owner can relate to.
This is all part of the plan (and problem) that some online marketers are using to get to the top – the more they can glorify their success at the expense of your feelings of inferiority, the more likely you are to purchase what they’re selling.
As we read, watch and scroll through these inflated depictions of successful companies, we begin to question if we’ve got what it takes to be as successful as others.
Every business owner I know has felt the onset of anxiety and stress from not believing that they do enough, share enough, or post enough, which results in feelings of insecurity and failure to reach their full potential as business owners.
So, we look to the experts to help us learn what we don’t know through purchasing online programs, joining group programs, and investing in high-ticket masterminds, hoping these investments will bring a hefty ROI to our bottom line.
Game on. We’ve taken the bait.
We slide down the slippery slope of a marketing funnel without even realizing it - we’ve converted into a buyer, essentially paying our dues to get ourselves closer to their version of success.
What are the alternatives to manipulative marketing strategies?
Is there a different way to use online marketing to grow a small business without using borderline predatory, manipulative marketing strategies that highlight the weaknesses of a potential customer in an attempt to get them to purchase?
In short, yes. There are alternative marketing strategies that have been proven to work in helping small businesses increase revenue and grow their business. But we’re not hearing about them because the “good ones” are getting choked out of the conversation by the “big ones”, and I’d love to shed some light on how we can begin approaching marketing from a more empathetic, ethical perspective.
What is a Marketing Funnel? (Click to Expand...)
What’s a Marketing Funnel?
Before we go any further, let me give a brief overview of the marketing funnel to illustrate the concept as it has evolved over time. Over the last 7-10 years, those two words (marketing funnel) have been seen as the holy grail for catapulting small businesses into the next income bracket - with promises of 6-figure launches, a successful online course, or the exclusive high-end masterminds that all the successful business owners are already a part of.
Imagine an upside down triangle with three sections - Top of Funnel, Middle of Funnel, Bottom of Funnel.
Top of Funnel: TOF
Generally speaking, the Top of Funnel or TOF represents where leads come from. It can be noisy for your potential customers, and it can be competitive for businesses to be “heard” through all of the noise.
Middle of Funnel: MOF
Next we have the Middle of Funnel. The MOF. I’ve always said the magic happens in the MOF because this is the stage where we begin segmenting out groups of prospects who are engaging with your content, whom you’ve presented an offer to, and who are in the “honeymoon phase” of being a new subscriber to your email list.
Bottom of Funnel: BOF
This stage is where sales conversations are happening, follow up emails are sent, the purchase decision has been made, and the transaction has officially occurred. CHA-CHING.
This marketing process sounds pretty harmless, right? But actually, it’s not.
We see things go off the rails when we start analyzing some of the “tried and true” techniques that marketers use to implement this type of marketing funnel in their business. Why does that become harmful? Well, let’s take a look.
When does online marketing become harmful?
There’s a catchphrase in the online marketing world that tries to succinctly describe the “goals” needing to be met before a potential buyer will convert, and it’s “Know. Like. Trust.”
We’re constantly bombarded with this three-word phrase, positioning itself as the foundation of all marketing strategies and the secret to finding more buyers.
“How do I get more email subscribers to buy from me?” – Oh just write things to help them know, like, and trust you.
“How do I know my sales page will convert?” – Make sure you’ve got the “know, like, trust” vibe in the copy.
“Why am I not seeing launch revenue match my launch goals?” – Maybe you didn’t spend enough time preparing them with messages that will encourage them to “know, like, and trust” you before you ask them to purchase.
But here’s where I think mainstream online marketing gurus miss the mark, and when their marketing strategies start taking a dip toward the dark side. Their goal is not for you to “know, like, and trust” them enough to purchase their products, programs and services.
Their goal – the ultimate money-making strategy used by countless online marketers - that the SECRET to success that EVERYONE ELSE isn’t talking about is…
“Compare. Despair. Click”.
Hat tip to my good friend Karen Sergeant for this incredible and accurate distillation of every “bro marketing” strategy I’ve ever seen over the last 7-10 years.
Then they add fuel to the fire by teaching this type of marketing strategy in their programs, and it contributes to the chaos of you feeling like you need to buy every program, course, and workshop you come across as you try to learn how gain the success they've seemed to find.
When you scroll through Instagram and catch glimpses of online marketers making 6 and 7 figures while sailing on a yacht in the middle of the Caribbean, your brain naturally shifts into comparison mode. You begin to question what you’re doing wrong while you’re working long hours (no time for yacht parties), trying to make every promotional email for your upcoming launch pop with that special sauce that will encourage your readers to click the buy button.
I’m not saying these “successful” entrepreneurs haven’t worked hard to get the results they’re experiencing; I’m saying their version of reality depicted in their public posts are playing to your weaknesses and pain points, subliminally telling you that you aren’t good enough….yet….to experience the same level of success they are experiencing.
When you connect the dots between your pain points and what they’re portraying as “success”, they’re sending a message that there’s no way you’ll achieve what they’ve achieved unless you throw down your credit card and let them “help you” get there.
Urgency, Scarcity & Limited Offers – Oh my!
Now, let’s talk about the use of popular marketing techniques like false urgency, scarcity and fast action decision-making tactics that we see in online marketing today.
Before I dive into this, I want to be explicitly clear that using these marketing techniques is not inherently bad. I’m an advocate of using them when working with my private clients, but we are always careful to check our intentions and consider the long-term consequences that over-using these techniques may have on future clients and customers.
Countdown timers, strategically timed emails letting you know that time is “running out”, phrases like “limited time only” and other similar strategies have been used for years to create a sense of urgency among prospective customers, thus encouraging them to make a purchase decision in a short amount of time.
You can almost hear the clock ticking as you scroll through that sales page, with constant visual reminders that your time is almost up before you miss out on this incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity forever.
While it’s true this type of marketing can be used to increase sales in a short time period, over-using them poses a high risk of manipulating customers into making decisions they may later regret and eventually questioning your credibility if they are over-used. (buyer’s remorse, anyone?)
Compare. Despair. Click.
Now, what about Email Marketing?
Email marketing has been the #1 player for effective marketing since the dawn of the internet, and there’s statistics to prove that it will continue to be one of the best ways to increase revenue and sales without stopping any time soon.
When it comes to purchases made as a result of receiving a marketing message, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), when compared to social, direct mail and more. – DMA
Contrary to what you may think, 72% of people prefer to receive promotional content through email, compared to 17% who prefer social media. – MarketingSherpa
Email Marketing Is Here to Stay.
There are a few solid reasons why I think email marketing will forever and always be critical to any marketing funnel, regardless of business size, email list size or amount of revenue generated annually.
1 - Email marketing feels intimate.
People like to be noticed, even when they don’t admit it. Good email marketing uses strategies like personalization and uniquely identifying messaging that allow the reader to feel a closer connection to the email sender, even if that sender is a big company.
The data shows us that personalized email messages improve click-through rates by an average of 14% and conversions by 10%. – Aberdeen
2 - Email marketing actually gets seen.
With the onset of social media becoming a digi-beast with an algorithm that’s fed 24/7, every person I know has fallen victim to mindless scrolling, found themselves falling down rabbit holes of information, making regrettable purchases and sometimes even deploying ad blockers and other software to limit their consumption of social media.
In contrast, email messages are 5x more likely to be seen in email than via Facebook. – (Radicati) because the recipient has (usually) given explicit permission to receive communication via email - thus opening up their inbox to only the most desired, most interesting, most compelling brands and companies they want to keep in touch with.
3 - Email marketing is more profitable than social media.
Because email marketing is rooted in the idea of consensual communication, businesses that use this type of marketing strategy have a higher chance of closing sales. Why? Because the subscribers on your email list have already raised their hand, displaying some level of interest in your brand or products, therefore making them a warmer lead than all of your social media followers combined.
In fact, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than social media (McKiney).
I’m not asking you to choose between email and social media. Like it or not, both are important and essential for a well-developed marketing funnel.
When you prioritize email marketing in the middle of your funnel, you are naturally choosing a more authentic way of establishing a human connection with the person on the other end of the email, and you’re inviting a conversation that is inherently more likely to lead to a sale rather than using public channels to showcase success in ways that may or may not tell the whole story.
Is there another way to use online marketing - and still be successful?
If you’re reading this, reminding yourself that “this is exactly why I don’t even care that I’m not using email marketing in my business” and vowing to never give into these old-school “bro marketing” strategies, I’m here to tell you there’s another way to do it that may actually make you feel good instead of gross.
Introducing The Zen Marketing Method - The Antidote to Bro Marketing
Here’s the deal. The typical way of using online marketing to grow a successful company…works.
There’s no denying that there are thousands of businesses who have done 6 and 7 figures in annual revenue, who take amazing vacations to tropical locations, who drive cars much nicer than the 2010 CX-9 I’m driving around town…and who share it all over their social media accounts.
But is it possible to use email marketing to grow a successful company without using the “Compare. Despair. Click.” marketing strategy?
The Antidote: Communicate. Connect. Convert.
The Zen Marketing Method is my proven framework that I’ve been using over the last 10+ years to help business owners successfully sell their offerings and launch their programs through email marketing in a way that puts empathy in the spotlight instead of relying on comparison and potentially destructive mind games to sell more units.
The Zen Marketing Method is such a powerful tool, especially for small businesses because it helps the business owner set and communicate realistic promises that are results-oriented and positioned to help buyers solve problems in a manner that highlights the benefits of the offer – not the shame of needing to purchase in the first place.
This alternative type of email marketing also positions the business owner as a guide rather than a hero for their clients and customers. I can’t stress enough how important this is, especially as you’re trying to strengthen relationships with your prospects and encourage a long-term relationship that’s centered around them being the center of attention - not you.
More and more, we’re seeing informed consent be a necessary component for opening up conversations, and this absolutely is (and should!) pour into sales conversations both on and offline.
This type of consensual email marketing allows your customers to feel seen, protected and safe to bring up their concerns and objections before buying, without being met with more pressure to buy rather than an invitation to discuss what’s best for them - with or without a purchase.
A Closer Look at the Zen Marketing Method
Now that you know there are alternative ways to use email marketing and you have a better understanding of why it’s different from the traditional marketing strategies you’ve seen (and used) in the past, I’ll share some details about the Zen Marketing Method and what makes it unique.
Instead of a triangle, imagine a circle, sectioned into 6 equal parts containing internal and external stages of the sales ecosystem.
External Stages of the Zen Marketing Method
The external stages encompass all of the marketing activities that you need to be doing to project your message toward potential buyers with the goal of creating a relationship, and promoting your products and services to the people who are likely to purchase from you based on their behavior and interest in what you’re selling.
The Communicate Stage is where you’re publicly creating awareness, building authority and increasing your expertise through sharing content that’s aligned with your values, your messaging and your product promise.
Educating your prospects on why and how your solution would produce results allows them to evaluate their options based on what their needs truly are.
The Connect Stage creates an invitation for people to get more information after experiencing curiosity and an increased desire to learn more about what you’re selling.
This stage is also where we rely on building human relationships that are problem-and-solution focused rather than highlighting what the potential buyer is “missing out on” by not choosing to work with you.
This shift may seem small, but the results can be quite large when the opportunity for a continued conversation is fueled by serving your potential customers rather than promising a magic, secret elixir to be the one-and-done solution to their problem.
The Convert Stage is the intersection of transitioning your subscribers from a prospect to a buyer through communication that continues positive approaches to selling instead of scarcity-driven tactics that could potentially risk losing sales from promotional strategies that tend to feel pushy and forced.
Internal Stages of the Zen Marketing Method
Another seldom discussed component to the “wildly successful” 6 and 7-figure launches is the lack of metrics tracking and review processes that fail to give the full story on the cost of doing business online.
An entrepreneur may boast of earning 6 figures during their last launch, but how much of that was profit? What percentage of that revenue was used to cover expenses such as paid advertising and overhead costs?
Often, we have no idea on profit margins because the real story isn’t being shared publicly (which is understandable, if you’ve been reading up to this point…), thus perpetuating the illusion of a 6-figure launch that may not have even been profitable.
This is problematic because it diminishes the importance of post-launch reviews, which is a critical component to successfully promoting and selling online.
The internal stages of the Zen Marketing Method mitigate this false notion by emphasizing critical metrics and post-launch review periods that shed light on the true cost (and profit) of online marketing and sales and also presents an opportunity to stop reinventing the wheel and starting from scratch every time you launch a new product or promote your offers.
Internal activities include:
The Review Stage allows you to reflect on qualitative information that easily gets overlooked, including things like assessing your energy levels and the effort you put into the components of your promotion to make sure your output is congruent with the results you experienced.
After every single promotional period (large or small) it’s imperative to review all the components and assets of your promotional/sales process, with the main goal of GATHERING INFORMATION to understand what activities drove sales, what messaging and other nuanced strategies worked well (or not).
The Refine Stage is the process of making those changes based on the information you found during the previous stage and relies heavily on the 80/20 principle, when done correctly.
Eventually, when you implement the refine Stage, 20% of your efforts will account for 80% of your success, generally speaking. This is arguably the most important and most useful step in the Zen Marketing Method because the more refining you do, the less creation you do from start to finish.
If more business owners took time to refine their marketing strategies rather than experiment with new strategies during every launch, we might find an alternative (and a more appropriate) reason to celebrate 6-figure online launches rooted in ease and simplicity rather than scarcity and urgency.
The Repeat Stage of the Zen Marketing Method is where we see continuation of the concept of repurposing content in an effort to continue using what works well without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Keep in mind that the repeat stage doesn’t only apply to launching and promotional periods. You can utilize this concept in other areas of marketing such as content marketing, social media marketing, releasing the pressure to continually be churning out new content, sparking new ideas and perpetuating the systemic “hustle and grind” culture we’re bombarded with at every scroll, click and turn.
Which Business Models Can Use The Zen Marketing Method?
The skillset, strategies and techniques in the Zen Marketing Method are the same regardless of your niche or industry, how much money you make each year, or how many people are on your email list.
That being said, there are two industries that have especially seen amazing success when applying the Zen Marketing Method into their business model:
Marketing for Service Providers
The Zen Marketing Method has been tested and been most successful for service-based businesses and entrepreneurs who are established in the coaching and consulting industries because it initiates a relationship with prospective clients at every stage of the marketing funnel, building on the idea that repeat connections encourage consensual and safe conversations that ultimately lead to a sale.
If you’re in the coaching industry and have been discouraged at the lack of “practicing what they preach” when it comes to alternative marketing strategies being used by other people in the industry, the Zen Marketing Method may be something to consider implementing in your business.
Marketing for Course Creators
Course creators, group program facilitators and other cohort-based programs have successfully used the Zen Marketing Method as an alternative to the traditional “launch roller coaster”.
They’ve found it to be easier to communicate and connect with prospects in this type of marketing ecosystem rather than be pressured to grow an audience, pitch and offer and reach their sales goals all within a typical launch timeline.
What to expect when you Use the Zen Marketing Method in your Business?
Once you switch your focus from comparing your marketing plans to everyone else’s and start courageously practicing the skill of email marketing through this different lens, you’ll start to see better results and more conversions because you’ve reviewed the data and have been making changes based on how your email list responds….
You’ll stop wasting time rewriting emails that actually performed well.
You’ll stop spending the budget you don’t have on an entire redesign of your sales page and membership portal thinking it’s the problem for not seeing more sales.
You’ll know exactly how to spend time focusing on the precise points of your marketing plan that need to be refined
So book a Discovery Call with us today; your time will be used wisely, actually resulting in content and assets that will increase sales and actually move the needle in your business!