7 Lousy Marketing Tactics

What I’m hearing: Rain on a tin roof, a loon in the bay….

Today I’ll be waking up to the sounds of birds, frogs, and maybe some rain. The cottage I sleep in (there are two on my parents’ property) is a one-room place with a tin roof. There are no amenities beyond the four windows and a screen door. And that’s all I need.

Before I left, I was having an email conversation about false prophets. On one forum, there was a lot of vitriol aimed at one self-professed expert. Some of the reasons weren’t really reasons — this particular prophet had poo-pooed content mill work, which frankly I have to agree with because of what those clips do to your reputation. However, there was plenty of distaste for some of the expert’s tactics — most of which had to do with marketing.

See, it’s a fine line to walk between professing your stance on a particular business practice and tying it in with your shiny new webinar or course designed to teach “the right way.” In most cases, it’s a horrible, transparently bad sales tactic.

And yet, those aren’t the only marketing sins some writing gurus are committing. Here are a few that get under my skin:

Long sales pages. I don’t know where anyone got the idea that a sales page that goes on forever is A) something anyone wants to read, B) a good idea at all, or C) effective at anything other than boring the hell out of everyone who attempts to read it. No. No. And NO. We’re writers: our job is to be concise and clear. Present it and wrap it up, people. Please.

Thinly veiled sales pitches. The biggest complaint in that forum thread I’d read was the helpful advice directly coupled with a course or webinar costing hundreds. In one case, a poster commented that she’d seen an offer just under $1K. It’s not hard for intelligent people to draw a straight line from your helpfulness to Bullshitville. From what I’d read, these writers were not only not buying, but not thinking too highly of the person making the offer.

Not practicing what you preach. It’s not too difficult to see when your “instructor” hasn’t done the work they’re teaching in ages or, even worse, at all. Why would I take a course in magazine writing from someone who writes for blogs? Likewise taking a fiction writing course from someone who’s written only corporate stuff.

Dangling the fake carrot. It’s a fairly useless, and transparent, sales tactic to send out notices that your course is nearly sold out or that you have no seats left (or just two, which seems to be a common claim). Phony waiting lists or threats that you’re about to miss the boat may work once, but when you see it from the same people all the time….yea, it’s not true.

Always selling in every single interaction. Come on, give it a rest already. Don’t be that person no one can have an intelligent conversation with because you’re too busy trying to find the “angle” that will pull money from their pockets. I’ve seen it in comments left by some of the worst offenders. “Over on MY site, you’ll see I’ve written about this extensively” or “I was just saying this to someone in MY course, which still has some openings….” Most of us with brains have stopped listening.

Incessantly patting yourself on the back. When was the last time the self-titled expert gave a shout-out to someone who isn’t an affiliate or isn’t going to further the expert’s career? If you pay attention to the way in which people talk or write, including linking to their own content instead of sharing the love, you’ll figure out who’s in it for themselves.

Promising wealth — at a price. It’s the old snake oil sales tactic: it’s so easy to do it, but you have to buy this in order to find out how easy it is. Look, there are gurus out there who really do know what they’re doing, and they’re working at it every day. Those are the people you want to buy from. Those who are constantly selling and promising? Look closely. What have they done lately?

Writers, what can you add to the list?

About the author




  • Cathy Miller August 13, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    You nailed it, Lori. These tactics just leave me shaking my head. I added one today on my personal blog that has to do with marketers who never give it a rest, particularly on the weekend.

    It's one thing if you decide to do something work-related on the weekend. Who among us has never done that? But the marketing scheme to email your list on Sundays or blast social media with sales pitches all weekend long exhausts me.

    I cherish my weekends and hate when marketers use that time to pitch their latest webinar, ebook or whatever. Give it a rest.

  • Eileen August 13, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Lori, I disagree with you about the long sales pages. Disclaimer: I write them. The reason marketers use them is because they really work in some markets for some products and services. This is a "direct response" technique, and direct response marketers test the heck out of everything – including long copy against short copy.

    People will say they don't like long copy, don't read it, don't buy from it … but in tests, the long copy results in more sales than the short copy. One of the biggest investment newsletter companies a few years ago had customers in for a focus group. These were customers who were already subscribed to at least one of the company's pricey newsletters. They were told the company was considering their next marketing campaign, and asked the focus group which copy they would be more likely to respond to and buy from. Almost all of them said the short copy. But in reality, the people were looking at two promotions they had already been exposed to when they subscribed to their newsletter. Guess what. Most of them bought from long copy landing pages.

    That's why the long-copy landing page has become so ubiquitous. Because it really does work. We know it works for B2C and not so much for B2B … except when it does. We know it works well for some products and not others … with exceptions. That's why smart marketers continue to test.

  • Paula August 13, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    This post makes me glad I stopped paying attention to any and all self professed writing gurus long ago. What was that line I threw out here a couple month's ago? I remember it was a twist on the ad world's stake/sizzle idea, but that's all I recall.

    I think the gist was: if someone has to work that hard to sell their services or products, they probably don't have much worth buying. (Hah! While writing this comment I had the third sales call within two weeks from a health insurance sales person I've already told to remove me from their call list!)

    This morning, even before that call, I was thinking the negative effect hard sales have on me and most people I know.

    For instance, my brother and sister-in-law, both in sales themselves, needed to go to Florida for a wedding this weekend. Airfare for their family was ridiculously high, so to save costs they decided to stay at one of those places where you get two nights for free if you sit through a 2-hour sales pitch. I feel sorry for the poor sales people trying to sell them anything. My sister-in-law sometimes likes to toy with obnoxious people, and will probably ask questions she knows they can't or won't want to answer. And as someone used to observing and critiquing his sales team, my brother will probably take notes about how the presentation could be improved!

  • Michael August 13, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Lori, welcome to the new way to earn a living. It's called direct marketing, direct response marketing and information marketing.

    I'll play devils advocate on this one.

    Bob Bly, who has authored more than 70 books, has written (at last count) 196 eBooks and sells them for a minimum of $29, plus affiliates, plus consulting, plus, plus, plus…Do the math. He writes A LOT and makes a shit load of cash. (And no Im not an affiliate or one of his disciples.)

    While it appears to be sleezy, he writes all day long on numerous topics but doesn't have to wait to get paid. He simply created his own publishing empire, bypassing the entire b.s writing industry. Seth Godin did the same thing. It's not a new concept. It's a way of extracting the most amount of money from a given niche while doing half the work. Is that so bad?

    And yes even writers do it.

    Carol Tice and Linda Formicelli (to name names)are working together using some of the things you mentioned in your list. While it is done with the best intentions, I can guarantee they don't produce the same amount of work freelancing now that they have a license to print money. Just today I got an email from one of them citing "last chance to sign up for blah, blah, blah course at the ridiculously low price of $47(original price was $247 but scratched out to fool me into thinking they're giving me some AWESOME value)

    I do understand where you're coming from but to post something like this without doing just a bit of research is slightly irresponsible. Hell, a few of your own followers to this blog are doing these things so you basically just called them out too.

    Don't hate the players, hate the game. It's changed. Time to catch up maybe?


  • Jennifer Mattern August 13, 2014 at 6:53 pm


    I'm not sure that I entirely understand your point. Are you saying that because some of her followers might be doing these things, Lori shouldn't call out tactics that she considers sleazy? Or is it more that something shouldn't be considered "lousy" marketing in Lori's eyes (given that she's often a member of the market being targeted) just because so-and-so does something, even if most people can smell the BS a mile away?

    While I don't agree with every example Lori gave in the post, she has ethical guidelines that make certain things sleazy to her. So do most buyers. And fortunately there are plenty of ethical marketers out there who don't have to flat out lie (only X copies of some e-product left, or only being able to take Y more customers) to get business. If anything, I'd consider most the examples in her post to be fairly old school copywriting and marketing tactics, whereas "catching up" with the times would be embracing the ever-increasing demand for transparency and the ease at which people can (and sometimes should) call you out for spouting BS claims to make a sale.

    I suppose your comment comes across as confusing because on one hand you're criticizing Lori for calling people out for what she considers bad behavior, and in another part of the comment you come across as agreeing with her about certain BS tactics. I'm just not sure what she should be expected to turn up in "a bit of research" that's supposed to change her mind. It might just be me, but I'd consider it more irresponsible for her to stay silent about things she's passionate about for fear of offending other writers who might do these things. They make their choices. And she's entitled to make hers.

    Just my $.02 of course.

  • Jennifer Mattern August 13, 2014 at 7:03 pm


    The long sales page issue is one of the points in the post I don't agree with, to a point.

    As you pointed out, they do work in certain situations.

    The problem I've had personally is that clients insist on using them not based on real testing for their kind of product, their target market, and their specific customer base, but instead because they see them everywhere or they read somewhere that they had to use them. Now, I'm sure larger companies do more testing, but I usually focus on small businesses and newer online businesses (where it's a particular problem because they want things done yesterday).

    Short copy can also sell extremely well when done properly, and that's why testing is so important. So while I don't agree that long sales copy is all inherently bad, I do find it to be overused in a number of markets, and as a result I think it's understandable that so many buyers are turned off by it.

    One thing I've noticed recently is the trend of long-form scrolling sales pages, but using shorter blocks of copy. That's much less off-putting to me as a buyer, but I haven't done much testing there yet as a writer / marketer. If you have experience with this kind of sales page, I'd be interested to hear how it's converting for you so far. šŸ™‚

  • Cathy Miller August 13, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    I particularly would love to hear your experience, Eileen, on the long sales copy working for B2C but not so much for B2B (usually);-) -i.e., theories on why that is.

    I have my ideas but would love to hear your first-hand experience.

    I didn't take Lori's post to mean the tactics don't work, but rather (like Jenn indicated), they are not her cup of tea. As a matter of fact, she started by sharing comments from other writers who posted on a writers' forum that they didn't care for the tactics either. If that's the market the marketer is selling to, I would say their viewpoints have merit.

    My .01 opinion. šŸ˜‰

  • Paula August 14, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    I don't think I've ever heard any writers, including Lori, say negative things about Bob Bly's business plan. The guy obviously knows his stuff, and the information he provides has real value to other writers. Value worthy of the price tag.

    I think the key phrases Michael may have overlooked were "false prophets" and "self-professed expert." At the end Lori even referred to snake oil salesmen.

    Those terms apply to people who make money by selling information, services, or products that have little or no real value.

    They're usually easy to spot because they spent more time selling people on how great they are than actually demonstrating their skills. It's smoke and mirrors. Those are the "experts" to avoid – and thankfully, they're easy to spot.

  • Lori Widmer August 15, 2014 at 12:05 am

    Ah, but you see, Michael, I'm not one to join a game just because everyone else is playing. Yes, it's direct marketing, but is the audience the right one? I wonder. In fact, I argue it isn't.

    You use the excellent example of Bob Bly. Yet given my own criteria here, Bob practices what he preaches, as do people like Ed Gandia and Peter Bowerman. There's a difference between truly having something to offer and simply tossing up a badly written sales page and teaching what we the teachers don't understand ourselves.

    I wonder what research you'd like me to do? Irresponsible is a pretty heavy charge to toss about, especially since I've been in this job for over 15 years and have seen, firsthand, the bad practices mentioned in this post. As Jenn says, I don't like these tactics. Personal opinion, but also an opinion that I think beginning writers can learn from. There are way too many people dying to sell them the "new" way to make money without actually teaching them anything other than how to part with their cash. To me, that's the worst offense.

    Michael, thank you for your opinion. I'm always happy to have dissenting views here. It's how we learn and get good conversation going around something, right? You're welcome here any time.

  • Lori Widmer August 15, 2014 at 12:09 am

    Eileen and Jenn, I knew you'd disagree with me on the long sales pages. šŸ™‚ I just think using these for writers is the wrong market for them. Personally, I've never bought anything from a long sales page — ever. If I have to scroll for a few pages, I get the impression it's a scam. It may not be, but I can't help my own impression. And if I'm a buyer, I'd think marketers might want to know they're losing me.

  • Lori Widmer August 15, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Paula, exactly. You've nailed what this post is about. It's not about the people who are doing it right — walking the talk. It's about people who are mimicking successful people and not offering anything of value.

  • Lori Widmer August 15, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Cathy, you and me, sister. It's tiresome. I think I mentioned a friend whose sales tactics were so constant I had to unsubscribe from her feed. I adore her, but if even a friend can't take your constant sales pitch, how the hell do you make anyone else listen with all that shouting?

  • Paula August 15, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Does this mean we're psychic twins, Lori?

  • Lori Widmer August 15, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    LOL! It means you get me, Paula. šŸ™‚

  • Kristen Hicks August 18, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Most of these raise red flags for me too. I think there are some genuinely good marketing courses and resources out there, but most of those aren't being touted via theses methods.

    I think most consumers are getting savvier and the best businesses are learning to avoid some of these tactics, at least the smarmier ones that make people less inclined to trust them.

  • Lori Widmer August 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Kristen, I suspect you're right. From what I've seen, most (not all) of the offers sold in these ways aren't holding a lot of value. A few people do it right and still use these methods, so I can't say it's an automatic "no thanks" when I see them. The caliber of the person will make me pay attention. That's about it, though. šŸ˜‰

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