Outside of ornithologists, most people would probably agree: angel = good, vulture = bad. So it makes sense that you'd want to market more like an angel and less like a vulture. Right?

As I read a recent post by John Carlton today, it occurred to me that the line separating marketing angels from marketing vultures can be pretty thin. And a lot of the advice you hear about copyrighting steers you toward the vulture side.

John wrote:

While leaving the plane at our destination, I noticed that the guy ahead of was about to lose his wallet because the bottom of his back pocket had split.

... So I excuse myself to the guy as I pass, and say "Dude, you're about to lose your wallet."

He looks at me in confusion, having been jostled out of his travel daze. He quickly puts a hand on his wallet, which is still there...

...and then levels a gaze of pure suspicion and budding anger back at me. An immediate WTF reaction to someone talking about his wallet.

"Your back pocket's split open," I said. And suddenly, as he felt the pocket and realized I wasn't a gloating thief, he was all thankful and apologetic...

The difference between him thinking I was up to something no good... and thinking I was a good guy just trying to help... was two seconds worth of communication.

Consider the standard sales letter formula: "problem, agitate, solution." First, you introduce a problem that your target market has. Then you talk about how awful the problem is. Finally, you ride in on your white horse with a solution.

That they can have for the low price of just $47.


Sure, the formula makes sense. And if you manage to convince the prospect that your solution is legit, you may make the sale and have a happy customer. But if you're not careful, you can end up being seen as a vulture who's preying on the misfortunes of others.

Does your solution really work, or are you just a huckster who's trying to extract money from people with a problem? At the very least, you're going to have to overcome that suspicion.


One of the first tools you can use to change yourself from vulture to angel is customer testimonials. Obviously, they can help convince people that your solution really works.

But testimonials done right do more. "Product X solved problem Y for me," is good, but it doesn't say that Product X isn't being sold by a vulture.

A better testimonial would go say, "Thanks Antone! Product X solved problem Y for me."

Very small change. Very big difference. It's no longer just a testimonial about the product. It's also a testimonial about you. The customer is grateful to you for solving their problem, you angel.

Of course, you can't just tack a personal note on to the testimonials you receive -- at least not without the customer's permission. But when you receive a testimonial that addresses you personally, don't be too hasty about editing out the personal part to make it concise.

The Free Line

There's a lot of talk these days about "moving the free line" -- giving more away for free in order to build relationships, and then selling to people after you've earned their trust.

Consider these three pitches:

  1. "You've got a problem, and I've got a solution for just $47."
  2. "You've got a problem, and I've got a free solution, that you can upgrade to something even better for $47."
  3. "You've got a problem, and I've got a free solution." [Along with or after giving the solution, you offer the prospect an even better upgrade.]

Who looks more like a vulture, and who looks more like an angel? Can you make an offer like #2? Like #3?

The fact of the matter is that marketer #3 may be more of a vulture than marketer #1, who may very well be an honest merchant with a great product at a great price.

But the perception is going to be different. #3 is going to have an easier time shedding the vulture image.

That's not to say that you have to give anything away for free. If the solution costs money for you to provide (for example, if you're selling physical products), then you'll have to run the numbers and figure out whether it makes good business sense to lose money on the front end to acquire more customers.

The point is that, just as in John Carlton's example, how you communicate with your prospects determines whether you're seen by your prospects as an angel who wants to help, or a vulture who's just staring at their wallets.