Why Your Customers Lie

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Every one of your customers is an untrustworthy, fraudulent, false-hearted, cheating, calculating, double-dealing… (deep breath)… crafty, duplicitous, disingenuous, untruthful, scheming… stinker. Well maybe not a stinker.

But liars they are. How so?

Such is the proposition made in “All Marketers are Liars,” by Seth Godin. Don’t be fooled by the title. Godin makes the case not that good marketers lie, but that customers do — to themselves. Even the smart ones. In fact, we all do it.

Everybody has his or her own “world view,” says Godin.

That sounds a little granola crunchy, so let me clarify: We all have something we believe about how the world works. For the sake of efficiency and security, we’ll reshape reality until it can accommodate those beliefs. Even if we’ve got to twist facts into pretzels to make it happen. The little fibs — stories — we tell ourselves make life easier. Sometimes, they make life even more enjoyable.

Example: Godin tells us, in the book, about a glass blower named George Riedel. George is a 10th-generation glass blower. He’s a nice guy. And he makes wine glasses. As well as scotch glasses, beer glasses, and just about any other type of beverage-specific glass.

See, George and his customers believe every single beverage needs its special glass, or it just won’t taste right.

A $100 St. Emillion Grand Cru is dishwater, for instance, compared to how it would taste in a proper Bordeaux glass. Meanwhile, if you’re going to use the same glass to sip a vintage wine from the Cote de Beaune, you might as well drink it from your shoe.

Robert Parker, the best-known and arguably most powerful wine critic in the world agrees. And the glasses George Riedel makes, he says, will give you the best tasting experience humanly possible. Millions of wine-drinkers around the world buy Riedel’s glasses. And in taste tests, expert and amateur tasters alike — when tasting identical wine in two different glasses — almost always pick the wine in the proper Riedel glass as the best.

Yet, in double-blind tests where the shape of the glass is perfectly hidden…

The predictability of which glass a taster will choose falls to zero.

Not only does the shape make no difference in these tests. The value of the glass makes not a difference either. A $1 glass and a $20 glass have exactly the same non-impact on the results of the taste test.

Please, if you’re about to write to tell me about how wrong this test has to be… don’t bother. Because I’m with you. Even though I know science can easily nullify my beliefs. Heck, I’ve got a dozen balloon burgundy glasses and a dozen Bordeaux glasses lined up in my own cabinet. Right next to the pilsner glasses.

Why perpetuate the self-deception?

Because, clearly, it’s something I want to believe. Even more, believing it somehow makes it so. Maybe I feel smarter when I use the right glass. Maybe I feel worldlier. Maybe it’s just an excuse to justify buying better wine. I don’t really know.

All I can tell you is, science be damned, the proper glass just makes wine taste right to me. Somehow believing that makes it so.

Is that so wrong? Not at all.

Godin points out that Riedel, who sells the glasses, is just as devout a believer in the different-glass theory as his customers. If he were not, he wouldn’t be able to sell millions of dollars worth of glasses per year. In fact, he’d probably end up working somewhere else. As it is, his belief in the importance in the shape and quality of the glasses is what helps him make such a good — and popular — product.

Godin calls Riedel an “honest liar.”

Scientifically, the glasses don’t do diddly for the wine. Until, the person using them believes they do, and there it is. Right glass equals better taste. Voila. Like we said, his family has done this successfully — and virtuously — for 10 generations.

So when is it wrong for marketers to tell a fib?

When the fib is an outright fraud, told to pass off a belief that nobody at the origin holds as true. A fraud works solely for the benefit of the marketer. And worse, when found out, alienates the customer.

Take Cadillac. Cadillac cars used to be, well, considered the Cadillac of American automobiles. “When the new Cadillacs come in,” was something you waited for. When you “made it” in business, you bought yourself a Cadillac.

Then Cadillac cut corners.

They cheapened their cars but still sold them under the Cadillac brand. But the new models weren’t as plush, as classic, or as authentically “Cadillac” as the old models. The new models betrayed the old promise. Cadillac quickly sunk in status. And scrambled for years to take the tarnish off their image. While other luxury cars like Lexus took up the slack.

The trouble with fraud, says Godin, is that besides being just wrong, it’s a self-dooming business strategy.

Fraud does more than put dents in a customer’s wallet. It’s also a body blow to the customer’s ego. They feel the fool for having trusted you.

The secret, then, to telling tales that sell is to tell the most honest and accurate stories you can — the most authentic stories — and tell them as well as you can too.

Godin has a test. Look at your product, your position, your pitch, he says, and imagine the customer asking you:

1) “If I knew what you know, would I still buy?”

and…

2) “Will I be glad later on that I did?

If you can honestly answer yes to both questions, you’re on the right track. If not, go back to the drawing board. You’ll be glad you did. And you might sleep a little better at night, too.

Last modified: May 21, 2017

3 Responses to " Why Your Customers Lie "

  1. Powerful, informative and insightful. Thanks for the post, John. Keep those great articles coming!

  2. Rock says:

    Hello John. I signed up for your roundtable email today – and this article (as well as the free one that came with the sign up, made me glad i did. I’ve seen copywriting as THE most likely arena for my next generation of success to come from. Yet I’ve been haunted by the mistruct and frankly outrage I’ve had for years now over false and misleading and “burn-you” ads that I abhor. And so I’ve stayed on the sidelines, learning about this profession, diligently studying everyday – and looking for how I can enter – with a clean conscience, and do this sort of work, – and be able to “sleep at night”. I’ve decided I get to choose WHO and what products I write for, and that helps. But this is the FIRST article I’ve seen and read on the matter – after 5-7 years of study and being on a dozen or more email lists for copywriters. So I am deeply greatful you have included it, that it matters at least to one other marketer out there, and that your entire approach on your site and thus I assume throughout your business dealings at least carries the desire to feel decent and good of the work of copywriting / advertising in a way that feels honest – if not an “Honest Lie”. SO this has helped a great deal and I am moving forward now as I finish my ebook of how to get continuous raises and promotions – from becoming a steller employee and knowing the keys to the ask and sell of your value in a work environment. (a synopsis obviously – haven’t nailed the catchy title and tag line yet 🙂 Anyway – just wanted to thank you for caring about and demonstrating a level of integrity I just haven’t seen at this level. Bravo!

  3. jackforde says:

    Thanks Rock,

    Your words are much appreciated… I can happily promise you that that there are other copywriters out there who hold integrity in their business dealings in a high place. And really, if you hope to have a career of any length or quality, it’s the only way to fly.

    Great to hear from you.

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