6 Predatory tactics used by marketing agencies
Scams, cons and predatory tactics are common practice with unscrupulous marketing agencies looking for the quick dollar. Preying on uninformed small businesses, they rely on deception and fraudulent practices to make sales quotas – with little consideration for client needs.
It’s time we ‘lifted the lid’…. But before exposing these tactics (aka cons) it’s important to define what constitutes a ‘con’. To differentiate ‘cons’ from common sales tactics I have listed some criteria below:
- • No intent on fulfilling the intent/goal of the initial offer – used purely as a transition to an end goal.
- • Market conditions, competitor influence, client capabilities are never assessed – and client needs never enter the equation.
- • Utilise ‘hard sell’ following the initial commitment.
- • Focused solely on extracting the most money from the client, before he realises the futility of the exercise.
In contrast, quality service providers will assess your current state, address your needs and finally develop your solution (notice the repetitive emphasis of ‘your’) …. A collaborative process which requires an investment of time and resources; and necessitates marketing expertise with business experience.
‘Caveat emptor’ …. “let the buyer beware”. My aim is to instil a degree of scepticism, develop your marketing ‘street cred’ and limit the influence of questionable tactics (as used by ‘dodgy’ marketing agencies).
Examples of ‘predatory tactics’ applied before project signing off – are listed below:
1. ‘Bait & switch’ con
This is a classic marketing con, which relies on initially offering a discounted item (something of perceived value) as ‘bait’ to get their foot in the door – then selling a high value solution (the ‘switch’). Commonly used as a lead generation methodology, this tactic applies deception and fraud solely as a vehicle to initiate dialog.
For example: You initially respond to an agencies offer of a free 2 minute product video. On meeting the agency rep you are informed it’s no longer available (quota restrictions) – but they can provide a complete rebranding & media package. This is where the hard sell begins …. You are hijacked, manipulated and coerced until you give in to their solution.
The real issue is not the hard sell, rather the deceptive means of generating enquiries – there was never an intent to provide the initial offer. This tactic is driven primarily by desperation, where the agency must adopt deceptive measures in order to survive.
2. ‘Smoke & mirrors” con
An illusionist steps inside a box leaving only his head visible. A small misdirection “abra kadabra”, and his body disappears …. This tactic works the same way. A full featured solution is demonstrated and negotiated, only to discover upon completion many of the features and subsequent functionality is missing. This tactic is commonly used where the solution has modular components which can be easily left out (or switched off). You are then upsold on the on activating the additional modules.
For example: You are demonstrated full featured ‘business/market intelligence’ system, with all subsequent discussions being based on this system. You pay for its implementation (and configuration) only to find on completion you purchased a skeleton solution – missing features, functionality and utility.
The disparity with what is presented and what is sold is primarily the result of specifications being poorly documented, and the tendency of business owners/managers to accept promises on face-value. The solution therefore, is to question the validity of what is presented and ensure full specifications are documented on the contract.
3. ‘Small print’ con
This tactic relies on non-disclosure of additional costs (often as periodic third party charges) or unfavourable terms associated with a project or service. Although documentation of costs & terms is often provided in the contract, the discrepancy is hidden away by the ‘small print’ (as subclauses and footnotes), and relies on you not applying due diligence prior to sign-off.
For example: You implement a sms/mobile marketing solution and commence indiscriminately sending offers via sms/mms to existing clients – only to discover (at end of month) you have incurred significant charges from the communications carrier. Or the terms of the contract may not be favourable (eg variable charge rates, honey moon period etc).
The ‘smoke & mirrors’ and ‘small print’ cons demonstrate the need for comprehensive understanding and detailed documentation (of specifications & contractual terms) prior to signing …. Know exactly what you are getting for your money.
The following ‘predatory tactics’ apply deception & fraud after signoff – during development and delivery stages:
4. ‘Hansel & Gretel’ con
Rather than adequately assess client needs (with requisite investment of time), then develop a solution based on the outcome, many agencies rush to sign off on a cheap solution and apply ongoing pressure to upgrade during development. Once they’ve got you, their aim is to fatten you up before the feast.
For example: This tactic is used most effectively with website solutions due to the longer development time. You are initially sold a basic website, then during development (under the guise of support and guidance) pressure is applied to make changes and adopt additional services …. Before you know it your $500 investment balloons out to $5000.
An unfortunate by-product of this ‘patchwork’ development methodology is the need to constantly rework components of the site. Consequently your website, which now costs $5000 – would have cost $3000 if scope was fully defined at the onset.
“Your cheapest option doesn’t look so good any more …. Does it.”
The issue here is not the escalating cost, but rather the original intent of the cheap website. The site was offered as a means to entice buy-in and was never intended as the preferred solution …. The end goal being to squeeze as much money out of you as possible.
5. ‘Seduction’ con
All ‘predatory tactics’ discussed thus far rely on offering a cheap option which is “beefed up” prior to completion. The following two tactics are different – they happily deliver the cheap option, allow it to ‘fester’ for a while then ‘move in for the kill’ …. Commonly referred to as the ‘long con’.
After enticing you with a ridiculously cheap offer (and implementing the solution) you are ‘stroked & massaged’ (aka support & guidance) over a period of time in order to build a relationship. When it becomes obvious the implemented solution isn’t working, pressure is applied to upgrade (the original intention of the whole charade).
For example: ‘$1 a day SEO’ is a prime example of this tactic. What you are not told is in paying less than 10% of the standard charges, you receive a proportionate 10% of the effort – resulting in zero returns.
It may be argued “You get what you pay for …. What’s the problem”. There is no problem with the service and support, and the result is as should be expected – the issue lies in the misrepresentation of the offer (given its sold as a complete and viable solution producing significant returns).
“If it sounds too good to be true …. It usually is”
6. ‘Segway’ con
This con plays the same way as the previous one – you are sold a cheap solution, and following an adequate ‘honeymoon’ period there is an ‘about face’ to a full featured option (and completely different direction). The original option is commonly a discounted third party solution which has limited value for you and zero “care factor” to the agency; and is used entirely as a means to generate interest and develop a relationship.
For example: An agency may offer cheap media syndication and submission services (distributing your content online). What you are not told is it’s a cut down version and available directly from the service provider for free. After a period of familiarisation the agency starts applying pressure to also buy in to their core offerings (eg mobile development and marketing)
The original solution was never intended as a viable solution and is again utilised as a ‘buy in’ offer. Again the issue is the misrepresentation of value of the original offering, knowing fully it’s just a ploy to develop a relationship and a means of squeezing money out of your business.
These tactics (cons) are universally driven by a combination of desperation and greed – not favourable traits when seeking a marketing partner. When client needs cease to be the primary focus and client interests cease to be the primary motivator, deception and fraud become the natural alternatives …. And ethics and professionalism go out the window.
If specifications are not clearly and comprehensively defined, contractual terms not fully documented and business needs not comprehensively assessed – don’t sign off on the service.
…. Rather seek another (more professional) service provider.