Since starting my career in marketing, hearing the term “manipulation” has not been uncommon. Whether it’s a term my family members use to describe my line of work or this pre-conceived notion from consumers, manipulation is often correlated with marketing. Well, what even is manipulation? Is it good or evil? It is harmful?
Well, manipulation is defined as controlling or influencing cleverly. In marketing, our jobs are to strategically communicate to meet consumer needs, hence, influencing which message or communication goes to who, when, why and how. If you ask me, that sounds a lot like influencing cleverly, despite the negative connotations that come with terms like “controlling” and “manipulating”. So, if you’re a marketer who has been called a manipulator, take it as a compliment. If you’re able to manipulate or influence a message effectively, not only are you being clever in what you do, but you are also meeting someone’s needs or desires. As Dr. Evil would say, (if you don’t know who Dr. Evil is, please watch Austin Powers) you’re a marketing genius.
As a marketer myself, I’d like to think that I am helping my consumers realize that what I’m offering can satisfy their needs. As a healthcare marketer, I am often promoting the service lines we offer and our physicians. Let’s say I am marketing a board-certified colorectal surgeon during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March. Part of my plan would be to send out an email blast to a targeted list of individuals in our primary service area (PSA) and our secondary service area (SSA). The way I’d determine my list is by finding males and females over the age of 40 who live in these targeted zip codes. I’d then send these individuals an email with information about how they should be screened with a colonoscopy and how now is the right time to do it! I’d include information about what colon cancer is and how it is absolutely essential for them to get checked, as well as a call-to-action button with a link to our colorectal surgeon’s “schedule an appointment” page. Is this being manipulative? Am I only sending this email so I can have them schedule an appointment and make a profit out of their consultation? Well, yes, of course our hospital will make a profit, but at the end of the day, we are helping these potential patients by reminding them about this very important screening for colon cancer and that they’re at the right age to do it. As a bonus to this reminder, we are also connecting them with a board-certified physician with over 30+ years of experience. How much better can that get?
How we do what we do
Of course, by reminding these potential patients that they are at the age for colon cancer, I am already using pathos. They will likely feel afraid about the chances of being diagnosed and will schedule an appointment. So yes, marketing is a form of persuasion, but as marketing expert, Anthony Miyazaki so eloquently states in his YouTube video series Marketing Minute 139 “How Do Marketers Manipulate Us?”, marketers influence by “applying various principles of psychology, sociology, and economics to the situation at hand. By understanding not only their various audiences but also by understanding how those people move through various decision processes, marketers can interject communications.”
As you can see, terms like manipulate, persuade, influence and sway all describe the very same act of marketing. As marketers, it’s our job to understand that what we do is for the benefit of ourselves and our companies, but of the consumer as well.