How NOT to Be a Marketing Douchebag (Without Becoming a Broke Fool)

  • February 9, 2011 by Corbett Barr
  • 57 Comments

Somebody needs to say this, so I’m just going to jump in.

There are two schools of thought online who will try to suck you in. I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t listen to either of them.

First, there are the marketing douchebags.

You know who I’m talking about. They’re the people who have “lists” and send you 3 different emails a week pitching some product they’ve never actually used. They’re the people with the yellow highlighter sales pages and the crossed out prices and everything else that sets off your B.S. meter.

These people study all the hard core pushy sales techniques to the max and some of them make a TON of money. Like millions a year money.

That’s the thing about marketing, it can be almost magically effective. Marketing can sell the most wretched crap sometimes while hardworking people with worthwhile contributions to society barely scrape by.

Unfortunately, marketing can prey on misguided human desires, like the undying desire to get rich quickly.

Marketing disciples with dreams of money-growing websites study these techniques but use them unsuccessfully. The disciples sadly pollute the Web with a bunch of half-assed attempts to make easy money online.

The problem with the marketing douchebags is that they sell us stuff we probably don’t need, and they do it in a way that makes our skin crawl. You wonder how they sleep at night (probably on pillows stuffed with $100 bills). They’ve made a decision (whether consciously or not) to trade some amount of humanity for money.

That’s a trade most of us don’t want to make. If you like to feel good about yourself, becoming a hard core marketer won’t be on your top list of accomplishments.

If you care about your customers and your contribution to the world, you might wish marketing wasn’t really necessary at all. Which brings us to…

Then there are the idealists.

These people turn their noses in disgust at anything that seems “scammy” or “shady” (code words for any kind of overt marketing).

Idealists believe you should produce from the heart and that everything else will take care of itself.

No “selling” required. An enviable scenario.

Idealists choose to live in an altered state of reality, which may be admirable in itself. The problem is most idealists end up broke because building a business without any kind of marketing usually doesn’t work.

Being an idealist with a viable strategy is understandable.

Being an idealist for it’s own sake will lead your business to failure.

So what’s a level-headed pragmatist with a business to grow supposed to do?

How NOT to Be a Marketing Douchebag (Without Becoming a Broke Fool)

I’m not an idealist, but (probably like you) I’d also rather avoid becoming a marketing douchebag. I understand that in a world of increasing noise, we have to produce epic content and rely on at least a little marketing to compete.

I’m pragmatic about the situation because let’s face it, we’re in business to make money. We also want to have a great time and contribute something to the world through our work, but we still need to put food on the table.

In most situations, marketing is what sells products. The definition of marketing is simply the act of promoting and selling products.

Building great content and products is goal #1.

Promoting our content and products in a way we can feel good about but still reach our customers is goal #2.

We want to produce from the heart, but we also want to be heard, not to languish in obscurity.

To me, it’s always a work in progress. We test the limits of douchebaggery and then head back towards idealism, exploring boundaries in both directions.

To make sure we don’t swing too far in either direction, it’s important to have an anchor. This is something that keeps you in check, a compass you can refer to when you find yourself wandering.

My anchors are:

a) Focusing on being as helpful as I can possibly be to everyone I interact with

b) Being open to criticism and suggestion from both customers and peers

c) Asking myself, would I respect someone else for producing what I’ve produced? Would I respect someone else for marketing something as I’ve marketed it? Would I be a customer of my own product or a reader of my work?

What are your anchors? How do you “keep it between the ditches,” as a friend’s grandpa used to say (about driving)?

What’s your happy medium?

Let’s hear it in the comments!

Oh, and if you like this post, I’d really appreciate a retweet or “like”:

Written by . Corbett is cofounder of Fizzle, a place for creative entrepreneurs, writers, makers, coders and artists, all working to support themselves doing what they love independently on the Internet. Follow Corbett on on Twitter.


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Sarah Russell February 9, 2011 at 6:16 am

Corbett – Thanks for posting this. I’d just add that it’s a lot easier to fall into that first category than you might think. There are so many marketing teachers and internet marketing websites that parrot those tactics – like if you don’t play along, you aren’t going to make money. Even people who are generally ethical, responsible citizens get sucked in, because they aren’t aware that there’s a better way to do things.

I’m guessing that most people who I’d lump into that first category didn’t set out to be marketing douchebags – there just isn’t always a loud enough voice reminding them that even if most people who are making money off of scammy sales letters and crap email marketing techniques, there are other ways to be succcessful as well.

And I say that, because I’m embarrassed to say that I fell into that trap when I was first starting out as an internet marketer. It took a really crappy, really scammy promotion I was running to open my eyes to the fact that it didn’t matter how much I made – I can’t live with the idea of ripping people off in the process. It’s embarrassing, but I can safely say that learning how to market online ethically is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my business.

wilson usman February 9, 2011 at 7:08 am

ahhh thank you smart thoughtful comments, this isn’t my blog but…anyway, I agree I was one of those people. The way I got introduced to IM is through “a friend” not a friend anymore. He was promoting cash gifting programs…grrrr, I did it for a month-results? 0 Time spent-a long time. Reputation? you know the answer to that.

Gladly I took all that B.S down from youtube, I’m glad none of you saw me doing that.

But once I started finding people like Tim Ferris, Darren Rowse and Corbett Barr ;) I learned the right way of doing things. I started finding legit people. Not those people saying…this is funny to me….”see you in the other side” grrrr. Again yea it frustrates me.

Anyway great post Corbett,

My anchors: Asking myself would I sell this to my grandma and would I sleep at night if I did this?

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Oh, I hope I didn’t imply I’ve never falled into the first category. You’re right, it can be easy for most of us to swing too far that direction.

Congrats for finding your happy medium. I know I’m much happier now that I’ve found mine.

Joshua | The Minimalists February 9, 2011 at 6:27 am

For me, there is one question that I always ask myself (whether I’m writing or mentoring or leading people):

“How is this adding value?”

That’s it. If I’m adding value, then I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Joshua Millburn

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I suppose that works, as long as you’re talking about “net value.” It is of course possible to be adding value while doing damage at the same time.

Frank Paolino February 9, 2011 at 6:45 am

My rule of thumb is “is the communication customer-friendly”? Or “would I forward this email to others (if I received it)”. If I can answer “yes” then it passes your “How NOT to be….” test.

Marketers need to follow this new model or have their communications ignored, which is not what they want.

Great posting, thanks!

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Great point Frank, about marketers having their communications ignored, although it’s not as simple as that. Some people get away with “customer unfriendly” messages for years because of false promises or tricky social engineering.

Denise February 9, 2011 at 7:27 am

Ouch! I am guilty as charged for being an idealist. Before reading this post I felt this was the right way to go because of all of the mess that is out there on the internet. However, you have shown me that it’s not an “either this or that” choice. I guess an anchor for me would be asking myself;

“Would my friends and family have any problems with my marketing techniques, would they be ashamed to promote my business and products.”

I have to disclose that at the moment my website does not offer any products; however, going through this exercise is helpful and is a great foundation for when I decide to make the leap.

Thanks Corbett

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm

The idealist path is tempting, but most end up wondering why they haven’t made any sales. You’ll be better off keeping your eyes open to both sides.

Mars Dorian February 9, 2011 at 7:33 am

Hey Corbett,

it’s quite a balance to aim for, and I’m doing it like you:

If I know it’s valuable, and I know that it actually HELPS and improves the client’s (business) life in one way or another, I promote it my style.
It all comes down to what feels right for you – if it does, promoting it to your people is the right thing to do as well !

Tim L. February 9, 2011 at 7:56 am

This is great stuff and I appreciate you posting it, especially since many people turn to you for advice on making money online. The douchebaggery stuff extends to almost every decision you make. Like if you follow the gurus’ advice—or even Google’s—on where and how you should place Adsense blocks, you’ll inevitably annoy the crap out of your readers and devalue your content. Plus your site is ugly. If you stuff your posts full of keywords like some advise, you end up with pure drivel from the likes of content farms like Associated and Demand Media.

I agree with the C part that if you wouldn’t buy the product or take the advice yourself—if it’s not truly valuable and worth the price/time—then you’ve crossed the line. If people are leaving your site because they are annoyed, like because every time they visit there’s some kind of pop-up bugging them to spend money, then you’ve crossed the line.

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Funny, I hadn’t thought about Google as being marketing douchebags, but I think you’re right, adsense is almost always a terrible call to me.

marianney | A Life Set Free February 9, 2011 at 8:33 am

This was great. I’ve been seeing the pitches to join internet marketing for a while now and while I always thought they were BS, it’s hard to ignore their claims of riches.

But I just can’t promote something I don’t actually use and still feel good about my self and my reputation. I’m glad someone brought this out into the light because I’m sure many good people are getting sucked into the schemes every day.

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

The claims of riches aren’t necessarily false, but the question to me is: would you feel good about pursuing them? There are better ways to go about it and plenty of better examples to follow these days.

David Walsh February 9, 2011 at 8:37 am

You could not possibly be more dead-on Corbett. I also appreciate the 6 instances of the phrase “marketing douchebag” with the added flair of “douchebaggery”. Reminds me of Copyblogger’s “Two Tribes” article. It’s worth Googling that, if you haven’t checked it out.

You are one of the few guys that’s found a smart middle-ground, where you run your blog like a business, but continually play a long-game, not just hyping up anything that makes a few dollars.

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 8:50 am

Did I say “marketing douchebag” that many times? It’s just so fun to say.

And yeah, I recalled the two tribes article as I wrote this. I think a lot of people can relate to the middle ground.

Jules February 9, 2011 at 8:39 am

Great post, i am guilty of having some red arrows on my page, though am no douchebag. I wish those sales themes had cooler options, in fact there must be a market for a notadouchebag wordpress sales theme!

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Maybe you should switch to non sales-oriented themes? It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Daniel Richard February 9, 2011 at 8:51 am

Hey Corbett,

Loved this. For those who have seen me around (2007/08 days) knew I had dabbled in the first one (it was to be a very brief period of my life). Point #2 (the one about all heart) was 2010; 5 figures, but no where near sustainable.

Let’s see what we can get done in 2011. :)

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Awesome Daniel, thanks for sharing. I look forward to seeing how you grow this year.

Tim February 9, 2011 at 9:28 am

Great marketing doesn’t automatically equal scammy. What makes your skin crawl may not be the same for others. You may not buy, but does that mean the thousands who do buy have been duped or are fools for falling for marketing that happens to make your skin crawl? What if that marketing really spoke to them and helped them make a decision that was good for them?

If you know something is going to improve the life of someone else, what would you say to get them to take action?

If you lie or commit fraud, then you are a douchebag. But if you pour your passion into your marketing and sales to improve someone’s life, but some people are turned off by it, do you still do it? Can you please everyone with your marketing?

One of the comments above mentions Tim Ferriss in regards to doing marketing right. Yet thousands of people consider him one of the biggest culprits in overhyping and using douchebaggery. I love the way he gets attention and his stuff has improved my life.

So to say that there is one perfect marketing camp in the middle between idealism and douchebaggery is a difficult premise to justify.

My take is if your product sucks then no matter what approach you take, your committing douchebaggery. If your product is great, then let the world know it is great and help them buy so that they can begin to improve their lives.

t

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm

One man’s douchebaggery is another man’s code of ethics?

David Walsh February 19, 2011 at 6:40 pm

“My take is if your prod­uct sucks then no mat­ter what approach you take, your com­mit­ting douchebag­gery. If your prod­uct is great, then let the world know it is great and help them buy so that they can begin to improve their lives.”

Everyone should read and re-read that last line. DEAD ON, Tim.

Rick February 9, 2011 at 9:30 am

Every time I look at one of the products in the affiliate program sites (Clickbank, etc), I feel like I’m moving closer to the dark side (Marketing Douche Bag Sith Lord). Is this truly the way to determine a niche that one should pursue? The quality of these products is questionable at best. My opinion of course. Great post Corbett!

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm

If something seems questionable, why pursue it at all? You can find something better to tackle I’m sure.

Jeff February 9, 2011 at 9:52 am

Reminds me of the drunk guy speech in Team America, for those who have seen the movie.

I’ve really noticed the divide between the idealists and the douchebags lately. They don’t like each other very much.

I think there are a lot more people that manage to walk the line between the two. Be transparent. Be helpful. Produce work you’re proud of. Look for the win win situation and most people should do okay.

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Haven’t seen Team America recently enough to get the reference, so I’ll be putting it on my queue ;)

Dave Ursillo February 9, 2011 at 9:55 am

Great post concept here, Corbett, and I particularly like the “anchors”. I’m going to need to come up with some of my own for my blog. :)

Best,

Dave

Gregory Rader February 9, 2011 at 11:44 am

You make a lot of great points here, particularly that balance is hard to find. You are not going to find your balance without risking a few mistakes and being a douchebag or idealist at times. The important part is recognizing when you are drifting and self-correcting.

I think one of the hardest things for people just getting started is that in order to not feel like a douchebag you have to prove yourself first and generate some goodwill from your potential customers. If you start marketing immediately you are going to feel like a douchebag because without that goodwill or reputation the only way to make a sale is to be pushy. Your product might turn out to be worth it but that doesn’t change the fact that you will be pushing a hard sell. The way I am thinking about this is – start like an idealist but know when you have contributed enough and you have earned the right to start marketing.

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Great point, nobody likes the guy who walks into the party and starts blabbing all about himself. Do some listening and contributing first.

Casey February 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Good post, I especially appreciate anchor c, asking if you’d appreciate the value of the work if it wasn’t you producing it.

Elias February 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Good day my friend. I think you hit right on the nail with this one. I think you should never promote anything you have not tried before. Great content first, then traffic… money will follow the hard work!

Thank you and keep enjoying the sunsets!

Simon Oliver February 9, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Hi Corbett – As someone that is just starting out in this world I very much enjoyed this post.

When I used to see ‘internet marketer’ appear on a Twitter profile it would make me run a mile and I would immediately think ‘douchebag’ or as we Brits would say ‘dodgy geesar’.

Looking at their Twitter profile and numbers often gives me an immediate idea of who the person is. If they have 35,000 followers and follow 34,860 then that tells all.

Failing that a brief look at their tweets or latest post will pretty quickly show me if there is any human element there.

I have been quite surprised to be honest how approachable the ‘good guys’ are.

Corbett February 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm

I’ll be sure to write an English-focused follow up to this titled “How NOT to be a Dodgy Geesar” ;) Thanks for the tip.

Martina Iring February 10, 2011 at 10:39 am

A great topic for discussion! For me, the key is doing what feels good to me. How you market yourself or your business is a very personal decision. You shouldn’t just copy what others are doing. You can only attract your right kind of people by doing things your way.

I have come across a few individuals online where I love their content, but I really don’t like how they promote/sell their products. And that’s just fine. They are successful, so clearly their method works for a lot of people. It goes back to the you can’t please everyone idea. So at the end of the day, if I feel good about it, that’s what matters most.

Suellen February 13, 2011 at 2:42 am

Another perfectly timed post for me -thanks Corbett.

Here’s my dilemma.

For three years I’ve been closer to the Idealist than the Douchebag and it has been a slow, slog with little return. I’m about to shift along the spectrum toward Douchebag in the hope that doing some marketing in a more “in your face” way will bring in more traffic and ultimately clients.

I’m going to try to learn the douchebag technique but keep my personal style. I have no idea whether that is possible but I’ll do my best.

This still sits a little uneasy with me but I know my content is good and once clients start working with me, I deliver what I promise. They tell me this but there just aren’t enough of them. It’s attracting those clients that’s the problem – especially in the Australian backwaters!

So, I’m going to give Douchebaggery a go and see what happens, unless you or your subscribers give me another option – fast!

Corbett February 14, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Hold up, Suellen, my point wasn’t to push you to the dark side of marketing, just to get you to see the virtues of backing off the idealism a little. I think that’s what you mean, but just making sure. Let us know how it goes for you.

Spyros Heniadis February 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Hi Corbett,

Great post. I’ve been firmly (and regretfully) lodged in the idealist camp, and I know being an idealist is a problem. I have to find my place on the spectrum, and I don’t want to be a douchbag engaged in douchebaggery. (you’re right, it is fun to say!!!)

I don’t have concrete anchors for marketing yet, but an anchor I use in creating my content is “Am I being genuine” and this will be an anchor for marketing when I start. (I’m about to launch a free ebook)

I want to create great products that bring value to people. I hope that by finding my marketing voice, just as I’m finding my writing voice. I will be able to do that, earn income from it, and feel good about the whole thing.

So I’ll happily to toot my own horn, once I learn how to play it. :D

Corbett February 14, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Good point, Spyros, the same anchors that work for creating content can probably serve you well on the marketing side too.

Marco Lee February 14, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Many people online want to make easy money online. I’ve been there; I’ve also seen the cons of it. I want to be better.

I’ve made better of quality usable content that people can use. I make it simple and effective.

Of course as you’ve said we need to put meals on our table.

Get a product (own or not). Make sure that it is up to standards of simplicity ease of use and effectiveness. Get it out there and maybe market it like a douchebag, after all it is of value.

Master Dayton February 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm

I think you hit the nail on the head with your goals. When I’m putting together ebooks or other products I aim to put out the best product anyone has ever seen, and then to only use tactics for marketing I’m comfortable with. At the end of the day it needs to pass the sleep & mirror test. I need to be able to comfortably look at myself in the mirror and then sleep well after. If it passes those tests, I’m good.

Hani February 21, 2011 at 11:15 am

Hi Corbett, I worked for almost two years doing video marketing for a very successful internet marketing company and they have a (huge) list, they send emails out almost daily and they did all of the above that you mentioned.

To their credit they were trying to not be too douchy, but then sales went down and they pumped it up again (though I think it went down because they exhausted their list)

Anyway, I left because it just wasn’t fun working there anymore and I couldn’t keep creating videos for something I would never do myself. While I am no idealist, that just felt wrong.

Anyway, now my personal yard stick is whether or not I’d show my friends my website. I try to be as authentic as possible and explain my decision to do something (on the site) as much as I can without rambling.

I also check out other sites and try and if I see something that they have done that makes me feel good about clicking the link, entering my email or buying, then I incorporate that into my website too.

Of course my site doesn’t sell anything at the moment, but marketing doesn’t always have to be for a product. I’m marketing my website and capturing leads.

I’m just starting this and doing a few tests to see what the results are! :D

Take care!

Corbett February 21, 2011 at 11:51 am

I’m slightly jealous, Hani. I would love to see what goes on inside one of those big IM companies. I’ll bet you learned a ton. Kudos for figuring out what works for you and what principles you want to operate by.

Good luck with your site. Let us know how the tests turn out!

LushFabGlam August 2, 2013 at 7:44 am

Great tips! Your final point ‘Would I be a customer of my own product or a reader of my work?’ and feedback from our readers is exactly how we decide what content to feature on Lush-Fab-Glam.com. Our About page describes it as:

“If we don’t love it and you won’t think it’s spectacular then we don’t blog about it.”

-LFG
http://Lush-Fab-Glam.com

Jill August 2, 2013 at 9:15 am

hmm, this article was written a long time ago (or so it seems from the comments) yet today, as I prepare to launch an alliance to help others grow an MLM, it ended up in my email box…message from the universe?

Giselle Hayden August 2, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I’m so glad that you addressed this topic…especially in such a blunt, straight-forward manner!! Everywhere I look, there is another “marketer” with their pushy & aggressive sales tactics re-selling snake oil under a new product name at twice the price. It seems to be especially rampant here in South Florida. I definitely fit into the idealist category and as I am just about to throw my hat into the ring with my own internet-based business ventures, I worry about how my idealistic approach can compete with the masses of manic-marketers out there. How do get people to see past all the ‘quantity’ out there and notice your genuine ‘quality’ when you are first starting out?

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Don’t worry about the past. The important thing is you’re comfortable with what you’re up to now. Thanks for sharing the “grandma” anchor, btw.

Tim February 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Outside of lying and fraud, the choice of using strong copywriting, eye-catching headlines and even big, flashing red arrows isn’t a discussion of ethics, but one of taste. And in some circles effectiveness.

Like I mentioned with Tim Ferriss, there are a lot of people who hate the way he markets, but would you call him a douchebag? Would you say he is being unethical?

As I’ve said, I like the way he markets his books and blog posts. He uses a lot of hype, but he isn’t lying as far as I can tell.

My premise is it’s fine to call out fraudsters as douchebags, but to use a broad stroke to define any marketing you dislike as douchebaggery is a premise that’s hard to hold because the definition is so subjective.

I think this is a topic that is easy for people to jump on the bandwagon about, but not a topic any could easily find actionable since it isn’t definable.

Tim February 9, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Corbett,
Even though I’m challenging your post here, I just want to say I think you do great work. I wouldn’t have asked for an interview to share with my audience if I didn’t like your work.
t

Corbett February 9, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Sure, absolutely, and mind you I’m not an idealist, and therefore my use of the term “douchebag” is merely to illustrate a point, to show the extremes of the argument. There are plenty of people who think any form of marketing is douchebaggery. I see it as not so black-and-white and (obviously through my regular use of marketing and study of the topic) understand that the point of any marketing is to rise above the noise to find an audience for your products or message.

My overall point here was to point out the extremes and find out where people reading this fall, so thanks for contributing to the discussion. I always love hearing the different viewpoints.

Suellen February 15, 2011 at 2:31 am

Don’t worry I’ve not quite turned Darth Vader yet ;-) Just Yoda a little less I am.

Will let you know how I find it when I dip my toe in the dark side.

Hani February 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm

lol! It’s a very exciting environment, especially launch time. They have a lot of businesses under their umbrella and kept it to one launch a month to get the maximum results.

The most interesting is that they (and me) trained constantly and tested everything. Everyday is a way to improve how they did things. So indeed it was an exciting time. I’d recommend it to anyone :)

Will keep you informed about the results, and thanks for such informative articles!

H

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