You make dozens of choices as a marketer on every campaign.  All pulled by the natural tension between truth and manipulation.  How innovative should we call our newest feature?  How easy should we make our new user interface seem?  And so on and so on.  Fundamentally, how big should our promises be?

The easy choice: don’t be at the extremes-

Monk-like truth: We’re ABC printing company, brand new, inexperienced and desperate for our first customer, so, we’re under-pricing our product to get our first few customers!

Predator-like manipulation: We’re ABC printing company, brand new, you’ll love our experience, we have the lowest price in town, guaranteed, and if you aren’t happy with your job, we’ll give you your money back.

But if the extremes are bad, where in the middle is good?

I bump up against these two concepts every day, and for a long time, since my IBM selling days.  If you were caught disparaging a competitor you got fired.  That was as much a part of our culture as our white shirts.  Excuse me, as our starched white shirts.

With IBM, is was simple because they took the choice away; cross the line and you’d be fired.  But it isn’t that easy for you or for me today because we have temptations choices, lots of them.  So, how do you decide?  Simple, you say, be honest.  Of course, I say, we’re good, honest people.  Yet, the monk might shake his head at some of your sales copy and the predator will likely sometimes think you’re a pansy for using such limp-wristed nursery rhythms.

How do you decide?  Usually, you write it, read it and do a gut check.  Does it over-promise, do you feel uncomfortable, does it portray your company the way you want to be seen?  This works.

But let me suggest two additional ways to decide where along the monk – predator continuum to strive for.

Merlin Mann characterizes this natural tension by comparing our attempts to communicate along a continuum: connecting with shared truth (the monk); or pushing people toward forgetting who they are (the predator).  His prescription for success is sending a message that connects with the truth you share with your audience in the context of what you are selling, as opposed to creating discord (pushing people to forget who they are so that the solution you offer solves the discord).

I say: find out what is important to your customer, today, in the context of what you are selling, and connect that to your product or service in a positive, authentic manner.  If you don’t understand what is important to your customer and how what you sell fits into that equation, what do you do?  You simply pull the old manipulative tricks out of the bag.  It’s lazy.  It’s wrong.  And it simply isn’t as effective as authenticity.

Beefy stuff!  But dammit, this is important.  When I wake up at night, and it’s just me and my thoughts, nothing else, I want that grumbling in my stomach to be hunger, not guilt.  Plus, I believe positive authenticity, what Mann characterizes as connecting to the shared truth, creates more sales in the mid- and long-term.  You are creating relationships, not just sales, and relationships are the most difficult barriers to entry into a market there are. Here is a talk he gave (long!) where he makes these points along with about a million others (that’s part of the package). I urge you to watch/listen to it and if it resonates with you, to follow his posts.

No, this is not a kumbaya moment.  No, I wouldn’t secretly rather be a minister or save poor people.  It’s the ethical thing to do and it’s also more effective.