Ethical Use of Conflict in Marketing
The peacemakers may be blessed, but do rabble rousers have more influence?
It's well-known that controversial blog posts make great traffic magnets. Get people riled up, and they'll post more comments, write opposing posts on their blogs (getting you more links), deride (and link to) you more in Twitter, etc.
Picking a charged topic and arguing for the most controversial side (regardless of what you actually believe) can be an effective traffic strategy.
And what works for blogging can work for marketing too. Take my post from last Friday about autoblogging for example -- somebody's marketing a product whose ethics I have questions about.
And I blogged about it!
It's possible that my blog post got them customers who wouldn't have heard about their product otherwise.
You see products positioned as "loopholes", "unfair advantages", "backdoor", or "black hat" all the time. Some people eat it up. Others hate it and tell the whole world why. Both groups bring traffic with them.
However, Effective ≠ Ethical
Associating your product with things that people in your target market have strong feelings about is a powerful technique. Marketing teachers talk about using an "us vs. them" approach -- setting up yourself and your product as the champions of the opposition to whoever or whatever your target customers dislike.
But too much focus on using conflict in your marketing can easily carry you across an ethical line.
Is it ethical to position a product in opposition to something you personally support? If the product really does oppose your values, you probably shouldn't be promoting it anyway. But what if it's just a matter of product positioning? Are you making the world a worse place for personal gain by lending credence to a bad idea?
Is it ethical to demonize a competitor to make more sales to people who dislike him? What if he deserves it? Sure, it's good to warn people about him. But even then, you need to take care not to become the voice of negativity.
Challenging Customers' Beliefs
The inspiration for this post was an article on one of Discover Magazine's blogs about how people react when their beliefs are challenged. When trying to cope with conflicting ideas:
Altering one's beliefs in the face of new evidence is one solution but for [some, that's] too difficult. Their alternative was to try and muster social support for their ideas. If other people also believed, their internal conflicts would lessen.
Research has shown that when people's beliefs are shaken, they tend to react by advocating for them more energetically. And the more import the belief is to the person, the more powerful the effect.
Reading the article, I wondered how that might be applied to blogging and selling.
The obvious (and obviously wrong) answer was to attack the position of the people who you want a response from. While that might get a response, it wouldn't be the response you were looking for. You may draw the right people into the battle, but you'd position yourself on the wrong side.
Another idea was to start off writing as if you were advocating the opposing point of view (to get your target market into a responding mood), and then switch sides. You'd set up a house of cards and then turn around and knock it down.
Who's Side Are You On Anyway?
I have a confession to make -- this blog post is an experiment in doing exactly that. I started off talking only about the benefits of stirring up controversy. If that rubbed you the wrong way, did you want to respond and set me straight? If so, did my switching sides lessen your interest in responding? Or did it just make you more comfortable responding, since now we're in agreement.
On the other side, I suppose there may be people reading this who agreed with me in the beginning and felt betrayed by my switching sides! What a tangled web we weave.
One of the dangers of using conflict this way in your blog or marketing is that customers might get confused about which side you're really on.
If you'd read only the first part of this post, you might think that Antone Roundy advocates picking fights if it'll make you money. And how easy would it be for someone to take a quote from this post out of context and portray me that way to people who don't know me yet? If this were politics, it'd happen for sure.
For those of you who already know me, the first part of this post may have made you wonder whether I'd lost my anchor.
One thing's for certain -- if you're going to use conflict to build response, you need to be sure it's clear in the end which side you're on.