The Most Toxic Words In Marketing

Toxic Marketing WordsWhen done right, effective marketing will generate a quantifiable “multiplier effect.”

While social media gets much of the recent credit for this phenomenon, it has existed forever, long before the famous shampoo commercial that explained how happy customers “tell their 2 friends, who tell their 2 friends and so on, and so on.”

I believe that the most important words in marketing are “thank you.”  Because when you create great content, your readers will share it. It will get found by more and more people and your readers become a free army of promoters for your brand and content. So you should thank them!

But what is the opposite of thanking your readers? The opposite of being grateful is being rude.

How do brands offend their readers? With boring content that requires registration.

I often hear the same toxic excuse from traditional marketers for why they continue to be overly-promotional, with late-stage content and to gate that content too often:

“We are in the business of selling stuff.”
And so I propose that these are the most toxic words in marketing: “But we are in the business of selling stuff.”

Q: Why do you create content that only talks about us and how great we are?
A: Because we are in the business of selling stuff. We have to show real business results.

Q: Why do you put registration forms in front of too much of your content?
A: Because we are in the business of selling stuff. Our sales team wants leads.

Q: Why do you use social channels to promote products and campaigns that no one wants?
A: Because we are in the business of selling stuff. And because the boss told me to do it.

Q: Why do you send too many promotional emails to your house list as response rates drop and opt-outs increase?
A: Because we are in the business of selling stuff. We don’t just give stuff away.

Q: Why do you create snippets of blog posts for your email subscribers and force them to click to read more?
A: Because we are in the business of selling stuff. We need to make them come back to our website.

Trust me, I realize there is a time to use registration forms. But there is a cost to bad content and just talking about yourself is not the best way to sell stuff, it is simply the biggest mistake marketers make.

But please, don’t take my word for it.  Test it.  Send some of your paid search traffic to a blog site. Then measure if they share it. Measure the effect of that traffic, of their social shares and of the SEO benefit gets you in the form of free visitors, who also share it and then convert to leads.

You will need to optimize your call-to-action, but the numbers won’t lie. You can create a content destination with great content and no registration gates that can become a lead generation machine for your business.

Because when you realize that the purpose of your business is to serve your customers, you will not only stop offending your prospects, you will gain more customers at a lower cost. And they will tell 2 friends, who will tell 2 friends and so on, and so on…

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

20 thoughts on “The Most Toxic Words In Marketing

  1. I have to laugh – not because what you say is funny – but I just had this discussion with my tech partner. As the marketing end of our partnership (we are launching a new community magblog –, I ask for what he calls “too lengthy” signups. I say, “But I want the info so I can market better” and he says, “why are you putting up barriers for people before they even get a chance to experience what you are offering?” He has made his point so clear to me – people are paying a cost when they provide their information and time (in a needlessly long form) so really, I am asking for “payment” without giving them anything. Doesn’t work in the real world, and it doesn’t work in the virtual world either.
    Thanks for another thought provoking post, Michael!
    PS. We now have no signup, but just an email feature if you want cool stuff sent to your inbox. Sigh… I hate it when the techies are right.

    1. Thanks Elaine,

      I heard that “excuse” no less than half a dozen times over the last couple of weeks and it makes me crazy. I do understand it is a bit counter-intuitive. But as you said, once you think about it, if you take even a slightly customer-centric point of view, it is hard to justify the heavy amount of gating out there, especially in B2B. Thanks again for your support.

  2. I love registration forms. They are step number one in how I filter all the content that comes through my inbox, feed, stream, etc. I generally don’t even have to think about it before bailing, and now I ignore some of the publishers and LinkedIn groups that send emails promoting stuff behind registration forms.

    Ok, I better stop before I get worked up about forms killing content marketing again.

    1. It’s true. It is actually helpful when companies perform these horrific acts of marketing all in the name of “we are in the business of selling stuff.”

      At some point, there won’t be any suckers left to prey on.

  3. Thank you for this informative article, I am very new to internet marketing and not very good at it lol.
    I can tell you that if i check a site out and have to register just to see it,
    I move on. There have been many times when i went through all that and was disapointed that I wasted my time and then get spamed.
    I do not register on sites.
    I am there to shop or buy not get spammed.

    1. Thanks Lauren and welcome to this brave new world. Well it’s not so new any more but you are not alone in deciding to come along for the ride. Happy this was helpful!

  4. I think Seth Godin nailed this best when he called out marketers as little greedy kids (I’m paraphrasing the kids bit) when they display this type of behavior.

    Fact of the matter is, you can’t wring out contact info from prospects with tricks like these. That’s why there are throwaway or dummy accounts. I myself have one and I use that to sign up for a variety of stuff.

    Marketers ought to concentrate on creating call to action worthy content instead of making prospects jump thru hoops and then spending time and money cleansing their database.

  5. Hi Michael, agree with your views however just to give my perspective all companies are not great at creating content or curating it, it takes lot of effort to even churn out very average content and that too few times a year, in that scenario every piece of content is guarded and used for generating leads or otherwise not so relevant data, we need someone like you to create content strategy, calender and content itself 🙂

    1. Deepti, I very much agree with you! Most companies do not think like publishers but instead think like promoters. And the image is not a pretty one because as more and more marketers throw more and more promotional messages out there, the audiuence is tuning out from them and tuning in somewhere else.

      The marketing battleground is not between you and your competitor: what they say vs. what you say. It is a battle for customer attention! And only great content will win.

  6. NICELY! DONE! I thank as many people I can for even a simple RT; I thank them when they hit my blog to comment and I’m always grateful. Thanks for saying this in a new way, too.

  7. Hi, this is a good article. You have my vote for The Most Toxic Words In Marketing | B2B Marketing Insider and also I am going to bookmark this blog right now.

  8. It’s funny — I’ve often felt manipulated into a false argument, defending the ‘soft’ approach to marketing vs the hard sales imperative.

    Ironically, the softer sell delivers more cash.
    I want to say “We ARE in the business of selling — and helping customers is how you start doing that.”

  9. Well, to be a contrarian – we are in business to sell stuff. Read, “The End Marketing As We Know It” by Sergio Zyman. But yet, we have to rise above that as a purpose. Businesses must serve people, provide great content as well as services and products.

    1. Thanks Edwin, well of course you are correct. I think my point is that this is not a good reason to justify BAD marketing. I am happy you used the word “serve” because I think that is the “ethos” we need to see more often. If businesses seek to serve and help customers, we will sell more stuff.

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