Unintentionally Unethical Marketing . . . STOP This Now (The Rorschach Marketing Post)

Hi, this is Clay. And welcome to this episode of the Marketing Show. Today we’re going to be talking about a mistake that I see a lot of people making that unintentionally is rendering some of their marketing somewhat dishonest. So I want to talk about that. I also believe that this mistake that they’re making is also hurting their marketing and hurting sales.

So rather than beating around the bush, let’s just get straight to the situation. I’m going to be reading off the board here for a little bit and just bear with me.

So let’s say we have Sue, okay? Sue is a financial coach and she helps people reach their financial goals. So on the description of what she does on her website she says, “I help people reach their financial goals.” Now, let’s say Bob comes to her website. And Bob wants to make 1 million within the next six months. Can Sue say, truly, can she come out and say, “I help people make $1 million in the next six months.” Can she say this? If the answer is no, then Sue should not be saying that she helps people reach their financial goals.

Because what people do inevitably is they insert their own financial goals in this word here. When you tell people you help them reach their goals or you leave any of your marketing up for interpretation, people will project their own intents and wishes on it. And, usually, when you’re vague like this, right, when you don’t specify exactly what you do, you are hoping that people will project their wants and their goals onto your marketing because you don’t know exactly what the value is that you provide yet. You haven’t gotten really specific yet about what you do.

I think this is something where if Sue cannot say that she helps people make $1 million in six months, if she honestly couldn’t say that, then she should not be saying that she helps people reach their financial goals, because people have financial goals that are all over the map.

But let’s get a little bit more specific here. Let’s say Ron is a personal coach. And Ron helps people to make six figures doing what they love, okay. This whole doing-what-they-love piece is open to interpretation, right? Let’s say Jane reads this. Jane loves gardening. Can Ron say, “I help people make six figures gardening?” If Ron cannot say that, then he should not be saying that he helps people make six figures doing what they love, because his marketing doesn’t apply to Jane. And if he is specifically engineering his marketing to encourage other people to project their own wants onto his marketing and to read themselves into his marketing, then he is being misleading.

Now, if you’re doing this, I’m not calling you a liar. This isn’t something that’s illegal. This isn’t something where you’re somehow breaking FTC regulations, but I want you to think about this long and hard. But let’s for a second put ethics aside; I one hundred percent believe in being as ethical as possible and being as conscious about how we market as possible. But let’s just put this aside. Because I’m here to tell you that Rorschach Marketing or marketing where you are encouraging other people to project their own wants and desires on to your generic marketing message, which is what I call a Rorschach Marketing, is ineffective; it really is. It’s somewhat effective, but not very.

And there’s two reasons for this. The first reason is that Rorschach Marketing usually stems from lack of confidence. When people don’t know exactly how they can help people, when they can’t get specific about the value they provide, most people get very general about their marketing. You see this all the time. Life coaches especially say, “I help people attain their goals,” you know. And people and life-coaches who say things like that with the exception of people who have been around for, you know, decades like Tony Robbins- but people who make very general statements like that about what they do tend to do very poorly.

In fact, if you have a statement like this about what you do, chances are, you aren’t making a healthy living online; chances are you aren’t even making like 40 grand online at this point. So it’s usually lack of confidence that encourages people to practice what I call Rorschach Marketing. And unconfident marketing is usually bad marketing, because you usually can’t…

…fight for your message because you usually can’t grab people with your marketing and show them exactly the value that you provide. And that handicaps you.

The second reason why Rorschach Marketing is poor marketing and somewhat ineffective marketing is that non-specific marketing almost always fails. Now, if you’re a company like Coca-Cola where you have a product that could potentially be consumed by every living human on earth, then maybe there’s an exception for you if you started, you know, 60 years ago. But right now, in the present, non-specific marketing fails. You need to get crystal clear about the value that you provide.

So I would highly encourage you to stop practicing Rorschach Marketing. That’s just an R because I have no idea how to spell Rorschach off the top of my head. But I would highly encourage you to stop vague marketing, because it’s hurting you, because it’s hurting your client who’s projecting their own intentions on your marketing even though you might not be able to fulfill them and it’s ultimately hurting your business long term.

Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments. Thank you so much for watching today’s marketing show and I’ll talk to you soon. Take care.

  • Matt H.

    “I work with corporate professionals and business owners in their 30s and 40s to create and achieve authentic and ambitious life plans. I provide the coaching, strategies, support and accountability they need to be successful.”

    How’s that? The above grew out of a previous Marketing Show where you challenged us to stop “helping” people. I thought about that long and hard (and it was tough to come up with something that didn’t start with “I help… “) and the above is what I came up with, initially.

    Any thoughts?

    – Matt H.

    • It usually takes a good 15 to 20 minutes to work though this kind of scenario during a group coaching call in The Marketing Program. There’s just not space for it here. Best of luck!

  • I think this is really good advice. It’s important, in order to be persuasive, to really lead with results. I also just watched Episode 3, where you discuss how “helping” people can impact the quality of your marketing. It’s important to recognize that what we’re all trying to do is give people a vision for a better future for themselves, regardless of what we have on offer. People in this business are in the business to offer solutions to problems, and do good in others’ lives. Ultimately, that’s one of those things that many people desire. We all want to feel as though we’ve somehow made a difference.

    Recognizing that, I think it’s really important that when we set up our marketing strategies, we do our best to promote the unique vision that we have. If we write our material such that we position ourselves as helpers, or allow others to project unrealistic expectations on our services, we’re only setting our clients and customers up for disappointment. That’s bad for business, and it’s bad for the people we want to make a difference to.

    Great insight, Clay! I’m going to take this to heart as I design my marketing materials for my new product line. I think it’ll make a big difference in getting my message out to people.

    • Well said. You consistently leave insightful comments, Richard.

  • I love how this is just not the same old bullshit. I can tell you’re really thinking and going places even other great marketers aren’t ever going to go. Very refreshing.

    • This means a lot, Michael. I’m so grateful when folks like the content and share with others.

  • Hello Clay, great stuff thanks

  • Ben

    What if you haven’t refined your offer and positioning yet but have started a website to establish your online presence for your business. Do you think it’s best to leave a description of your services off until you can say more precisely what value you offer? How do you feel about starting with something general and then updating it as you refine your product/service?

    • I think that’s a great approach. As I said above “The good news is that if you’re focused and dedicated, your message can get much more specific, and you’ll get a lot more confident, as you interact with your market, understand it, and serve it more and more.”

  • I love your term “Rorschach marketing”. I have to admit when I start a new business I default to doing that. One out of not being clear – which your Avatar handles, the other reason being afraid to take a stand. But I can’t take a stand if I don’t know what I am standing for! Usual one I can articulate what I am doing the fear dissolves.

    Thanks Clay

    • I’ve done it to. The good news is that if you’re focused and dedicated, your message can get much more specific, and you’ll get a lot more confident, as you interact with your market, understand it, and serve it more and more.

  • I love it.. you captured it so well. Thanks.

  • Another great video, Clay. One irony as far as coaching goes is that it’s very common advice that people need to set specific goals…

    • I think humans in general are very good (or, shall we say, prolific) at giving advise to others. But less good at taking it ourselves. I sometimes find myself in a “do as I say, not as I do” moment now and again. I just end up laughing. Fortunately, direct sales marketing is an area where it’s difficult to bullsh*t yourself. You’re either making money the money you want or you’re not.

  • Clay, great episode as usual. I do think, as always, there are exceptions to this, but generally specificity is more measurable, and what is more measurable is more manageable and palatable, therefore better marketable and saleable. Whoa, that was a long sentence. Hehe.

    I’m also very curious, what’s your lapel microphone set up like?

    • I have no idea. I think I got it on Amazon for like $5 :-). I have a $450 cordless lav setup as well, but I usually don’t use that in my studio.

  • Hi Clay – Great stuff. Your show has me paying close attention to the words I use during my own marketing. I haven’t “helped” anyone since seeing your show on how you position yourself. Thanks again for the great insight. I look forward to the next show(s).

    • Sounds like this show is doing what I hoped it would do. And props to you for taking ACTION.

  • I love this term “Rorschach marketing” and I love even more that you don’t explain it and leave us to work out why you used it!

    I see that you’re pointing us towards thinking hard about our marketing message and what specific value we provide – but not to the extent, I assume, of headling “this software made $37,322 in 3 days for a 12 year old boy with no internet connection” 🙂 Just how specific should you be, when the FTC demands “typical” or “average” results?

    • Yup. It’s a fine line. I wish I could answer your comment in this question . . . but I think after creating 10+ lengthy videos, checklists, mindmaps, etc. on this topic (for The Marketing Program) I’m finding it really difficult to reduce the answer to a few paragraphs. This is really a pretty important question, however, so I’m glad you’re thinking about it.

  • Peter

    This has helped me as I craft our first Sales Page and video! It helped me to understand that, rather than objectively reading sales copy, folks project whatever they need ONTO the sales copy! Thanks.

    • Peter, I’m glad this has helped. It’s not always the case, however, that people project what they want onto the sales copy. The actually just project themselves onto it . . . for better or for worse. If they have negatives ideas or experiences with your industry, that’s what they’ll project. If they have a low self esteem and don’t believe their goals are possible (i.e. that your product won’t help them) then they need to deal with that as well. My point is that not everyone projects optimism onto your copy.

  • Good stuff Clay and I agree with what you’re saying, but I do think it’s a bit of a cleft stick for Life Coaches. The problem is, being specific is almost impossible because we see such a wide variety of clients with a wide variety of highly specific (to them) issues.

    Not only that, be as I stress on my consult calls no coach can EVER guarantee anything, anymore that a surgeon can guarantee you will walk away fine after a serious operation. There are simply too many intangibles so being more specific is fraught with its own problems.

    So I agree there’s a problem, but in 6 years of playing about with it, I have yet to come up with a solution. Is that in the next video? 😉

    • Tim, I really appreciate your perspective here. I will be doing my best to address this in the next episode.

  • Erika

    Clay- Honest and Brillant as always!

  • Gwensong

    good message, can you describe where R marketing got it’s name? I have not heard it called that before.

  • Anne Rein

    When I shared this on facebook, I noticed that you help business owners in their 30’s and 40’s . . . I am in my 50’s, and you’ved helped me. How can that be? I have an idea . . . maybe if one offers a conservative description of his/her abilities, s/he builds even more trust with prospective clients.

    • Anne, where did you read this? I’ve never said that I limit my stuff to folks in their 30s and 40s. But I AM glad that I’ve been of help!

  • Good stuff, Clay. Short, original, to the point. It got me rereading my own home page.

    That said, I don’t think the issue is with the “helping” verbiage. Sometimes that’s appropriate. I don’t think it’s with the non-specificity either, although I’d agree that specifics (and metrics!) would be stronger. The most fundamental issue is exactly the one you outlined – the promise depends on the context of the reader, and if it doesn’t apply, exactly as written, to every reader… there’s an credibility problem and it can’t ring completely, honestly true.

  • Dm3642

    Excellent Clay…Thank so much!

  • Rob

    Really clear, awesome message. Something I struggle with even knowing it when trying to do what I do. Tech support and setup has been pandora’s box for me to market but something people want, thanks for the good info Clay.

  • Ncren Va

    Cool message Clay. I’ll take it to heart.

  • David

    Great Insights

  • Your videos are really excellent, Clay. Thank you. I appreciate how the generic message is less effective, but as to ethics I don’t particularly see a problem so long as you’re up font with clients on a case by case basis as to whether or not you can help them. No matter what you say you’re probably going to find times when a client just isn’t a good match or has incompatible expectations.