don’t fake it ’till you make it – choose to build it instead

I love newsletters. as a professional who likes to keep up with the latest tips, tricks, and news from the marketing world, my inbox has plenty of informational goodies to offer. from branding, to neuromarketing, to amazingly hilarious cartoons about the marketing world, I regularly try to keep an eye on what is new. but this week, one particular newsletter caught my attention, and prompted me to carve some solid thinking time – about what is currently happening with branding and marketing, as well as our actions and responsibilities as professionals. spoiler alert: that email made my face look like a frowny emoji. 😕

an organization, let’s call it WeLoveGH, likes to regularly send out growth hacking advice and case studies in people’s inboxes. their brand promise, which you can’t miss on their homepage (it’s central, bolded, and big-lettered), reassures me and everyone else about the quality of their content: “we deliver short curated actionable growth studies from startups that went from 0 to $Bn” (yes, that is billions of dollars). with such a promise, who wouldn’t want to join their club? 

this week, they dropped their latest newsletter in my inbox about cutting costs on Facebook ads. introduced as “-64% to FB ads cost (secret ninja hack)”, the headline made me curious – as it should since it is a good, curiosity-inducing text snippet, and I bet the email had amazing open rates. I dived right into the content, wanting to know more about this small, yet promising marketing technique.  

the newsletter authors laid out, one by one, the necessary steps needed to enjoy this huge Facebook cost-cutting trick, summarized as follows: 

  • go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/create/ and create an “Artist, Band or Public Figure profile”; 
  • create a profile, and now do it 10-20 times over, with new names and new personal details; 
  • then, go to your Facebook Ad Dashboard at https://www.facebook.com/ads/manager/account/campaigns/, choose your campaign and your ad set; 
  • click around, until you get to the setting “Facebook post with comments”, and then choose your newly created Facebook pages to show up as people who have liked and commented on your ad; 
  • hit the Like button on this post with all your 10-20 Facebook personalities that you just birthed. 
  • bask in virtual success and glory.  

wait, what? 

so, practically, the “super ninja hack” is what teenagers do when they don’t get enough likes on their profile posts? what you are recommending is to lie, so that my ad builds up more credibility? are we all seeing the irony in this approach? the even bigger problem is that this way of doing growth marketing is not new. not at all. fake followers and bot comments create the fabric of today’s Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian scandal stories. fake promotions and presentations build up internationally famous houses of cards like Theranos and the Fyre Festival. and we all know how those stories ended up: crumbling down, disappointing their fans, and ultimately, making us all more wary of the brand stories we hear around.

we are currently experiencing a global disconnect between what we say about our brand (the intention and its promise) and what we end up doing for them. and that is hurting us more than we think, from creatives to clients.

thinking back of WeLoveGH, their initial promise is a valid one. there is a need for what they have to offer in the market: savvy, snackable marketing advice on how to do things faster and better. for example, I am sure that if you are looking for a nice cut on your Facebook ad spending, the advice you read above will do the trick. in this case, the problem is not the “what”, but the “how”.

by creating your brand’s social vibe through lies, as encouraged above, you are setting an unfortunate precedent. these practices push the focus away from a brand’s true value and reduce it to superficial numbers, which in turn, diminishes the real appreciation for the brand. in the case of massively liked posts, what we fall for is the size: the number of likes or shares that the post gets immediately translates into something important inside our heads. good old social proof, mentioned in Robert Cialdini’s Influence book, is a neuromarketing technique that has been around for centuries. it is implanted in our brain circuit because it helps us choose what to focus our attention on, and what to regard as useful or valuable from our environment. but in the case of the newsletter advice, this useful survival technique is transformed into pure manipulation, which opens an ethical Pandora’s box of questions. when do we know we have gone too far with influencing/manipulating? are small, white lies included among undesired branding behaviors? where do we draw the line on the actions we take for our brand’s sake? 

this is why knowing who you are and what you stand for acts as the perfect compass for your decision-making process, consistently – as a meaningful brand. having a solid understanding of your brand DNA, your values, the experiences you encourage and the culture you want to drive helps you stay within the dotted line when it comes to experimentation and adaptation to your specific circumstances. without this deeply embodied know-how, you won’t really get far in your vision and business plans. your identity will be confusing (since you will be more willing to compromise on who you say you are), your offer will dwindle (since you will make concessions to the detriment of your loyal fans and customers). ultimately, without a stable, grounded idea of who you are and without the commitment to stay true to your identity, your business will struggle. at least in my opinion, that is an unnecessary burden to sign up for.

the best part in choosing to stay true to yourself is that you won’t be the only one benefiting from this course of action. your customers will, too. nowadays, in the age of the internet, when everything is just a click away, anybody can be replaced in the blink of an eye. competing services and products might gain space in your market because they will get better or cheaper or will become more available. gaining a true followership, or what Kevin Kelly calls “true fans”, eliminates this important stressor for your organization. the only brands that will get those much-wanted signs of respect and admiration, together with the concrete positive financial feedback, will be those who invest in knowing who they are. also, after their solid self-discovery, those brands should stick to a true, ongoing development and expression phase through branding and marketing campaigns that make sense to them. that is how you can best serve your mission and your fans.

as our wise ancient Buddhist friends would remind us, the way is equally as important as the goal. watching what is happening with current branding and marketing practices, it is safe to say that there is plenty of space for maturation, both in expectation setting and execution. and it all starts from you making a conscious choice to become who your brand is meant to be. 

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