How one lie can burn your brand

Marketing Powerup #11: Honesty is the best policy when it comes to marketing.

Early in my career, I did some sketchy stuff as a marketer. I thought that was what “growth hackers” (emphasis on the word hackers) did.

When I was a young and foolish marketer, I scrapped the email addresses of a mentor’s connections on LinkedIn. Then I proceeded to send cold emails to those folks to invite them to a webinar. I name-dropped my mentor’s name in that cold email without his permission.

Yup, that was dumb.

When he found out, he sent me an angry email and immediately blocked me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

The lesson: it takes just one sketchy hack or lie to ruin trust and your brand.

🥸 The lies marketers tell others

They say it takes a liar to spot a liar.

That’s true for marketers too.

Great marketers can smell something fishing in marketing campaigns. Here are three lies that get me going, and how to avoid them:

1. False scarcity or urgency. ⏳

“Only 5 spots left!”

It’s common unethical marketing practice among marketers. It works because of the scarcity effect when people place a higher value on items that are limited.

Sure, that’s okay if you have real limitations because of your webinar plan or venue capacity. But to use it as a fear and scarcity tactic to spur people to act is just lying!

If you use it, make sure you provide the reason for the limited spots or quantity. For example, your webinar software limits the number of live attendees.

2. Exaggerated or unverifiable claims. 🏆

“We’re the #1 product to help you 10x your revenue in 7 minutes.”

Some marketers may be tempted to use false statements, exaggerated benefits, or make unverifiable claims about their product to boost conversions.

It’s quite common in the weight loss industry, where marketers sell potential buyers the dream of getting six-pack-abs in two weeks without exercise or dieting!

Wouldn’t that be amazing?!?

For example, Sensa Products promised buyers will lose 30 pounds by “feeling full faster, so you eat less and lose weight without dieting, and without changing your exercise regime."

As a result, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), USA’s consumer protection agency, fined Sensa’s founders $26.5 million as part of a $46.5 million judgment.

The FTC might not fine you. But overpromising and underdelivering could result in angry customers, bad reviews, and long-term business losses.

Be upfront about what your product can and can’t do. As I’ve written before, great marketing should repel bad-fit customers.

3. Plagiarizing or stealing other people’s work.

Neil Patel gets a lot of bad rap among marketers. One reason is that he’s been accused of stealing and plagiarizing content from other marketers.

For example, Alex Birkett, Former Growth Marketer at CXL and HubSpot, noticed how similar Patel’s blog is to one he wrote years ago.

It’s not an isolated incident. Others noticed that he copied images, websites, and ad campaigns.

It seems like a common occurrence among marketers:

  • Amanda Goetz, the founder of House of Wise, had her Twitter Thread stolen word-for-word.
  • Georgiana Laudi and Claire Suellentrop, Co-Founders of Forget The Funnel, had their marketing templates stolen by another marketer:

One of my visuals was heavily influenced by a more experienced creator, Roberto Ferraro. Even though I gave him credit, Roberto gave me a great piece of advice:

If you do remix someone’s work, make sure to attribute the original creator. And, as Ferraro said, add your own “personal twist” to it.

One way to do that is to remix two to three different content into one. This way, your work isn’t too heavily influenced by one piece of content.

⭐️ Mini power-ups

Fun-sized blurbs to help boost your marketing.

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Boost your free-to-paid conversion with usage-based paywalls: If you’ve ever upgraded your Zoom account because you exceeded the 40-minute limit, that’s usage-based paywalls in action!  writes in  newsletter that the best PLG companies do that to boost conversions.

22 questions you should be asking your customers: Samantha Lael has run more than 200 customer interviews to get inside the mind of buyers. In this Twitter thread, She shares the best questions to help you know your customers better than anyone else.

Have a powered-up day!

Ramli John

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    Written by

    Ramli John

    Ramli John

    Ramli John is the founder of Marketing Powerups and author of the bestselling book Product-Led Onboarding. He's worked with companies such as Appcues, Mixpanel, and Ubisoft to accelerate their growth.

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