Say NO to Marketing Gimmicks

As a consumer and marketing professional, I’m not a fan of marketing gimmicks. In my opinion, they are the pornography of marketing: hard to define, but you know them when you see them. Teaser offers on credit cards, no money down home purchases, ROI studies that promise 400% returns.

marketing gimmicks, Joe Izuzu

Do you remember Joe Isuzu?

If you’re like me, you make a mental accounting of businesses that overuse marketing gimmicks and think twice about doing business with those companies and brands.

Before continuing my rant against gimmicks, let me acknowledge something important: sometimes gimmicks drive results. And because they can work, they deserve a place in the marketing toolbox.

Unfortunately, too many of us marketers lack the discipline to reserve gimmicks for the rare occasions when they might be effective. They are such a large part of marketing folklore that they overshadow the important long term efforts behind building sustainable brands and companies. As a result, I council my clients to take gimmicks out of the everyday toolbox and put them in the dark and dank storage room of once-in-a-blue-moon tactics.

Protect Your Brand from Marketing Gimmicks

Here’s why gimmicks can hurt more then help:

  • Gimmicks place tactical expedience ahead of strategic advantage. The products you worked hard to build over many months, that solve real problems, that create business value are trumped by the output of a 20 minute conference room brainstorm.
  • Gimmicks attract the wrong kind of attention. Instead of demonstrating that your product has value, they showcase that you are willing to make your sales team dress up in an egg salad sandwich costume and play “Let’s Make a Deal.” All too often your silly gimmick becomes more memorable than your advantages. And desperation is hardly attractive or persuasive.
  • Gimmicks are unfocused and defocusing. By their nature, gimmicks are loud and attractive. They’ll generate measurable results like new web site visitors or crowded trade show booths. Like a sugar high, the results are short lived without setting you up for medium and long term success. Instead, you would have been better served by focusing on measuring actionable sales opportunities.

When you’re building something new, you need to persuade customers on many levels. Beyond getting attention, invest your marketing prowess into communicating your business value and establishing yourself as a trustworthy business partner. Unlike marketing gimmicks, these efforts take time. Also unlike gimmicks, they have lasting value.

One thought on “Say NO to Marketing Gimmicks

  1. The fine line between unethical and effective gimmicks is frequently discussed in search engine optimization circles. Google, Yahoo! and others have taken a high moral stand on these gimmicks and strongly advocates against their use. Google’s top three quality guidelines are below:

    1. Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.”

    2. Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

    3. Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.

    See all of Google’s webmaster guidelines at: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769 .

    I’m not including Google’s fourth principle in my list. It is, “Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc.” While Google wishes automated tools weren’t present, they are. And because Google is unable to police and penalize those who violate this principle, only those who avoid using these tools are penalized.

    What all this means is that SEO gimmicks work….until you are caught and penalized. In the medium or long term, especially if you are successful, you will be caught and penalized. If you are truly in it for the long term, the penalties of search engine banishment are painful to overcome.

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