10 Facts Marketers Don’t Want You to Know

Howard Huang's Book of Secrets

One of the reasons why I enjoy marketing is because it is a very challenging job. Not all problems are the same and a lot of times you must come up with innovative ways to overcome obstacles.  After living and breathing the profession for years you come to learn a few tricks of the trade.

With marketing, you can’t get too comfortable with your methods because by the time you are comfortable with them the web has already evolved making your tactics obsolete.  What I like to do is share what I have learned and learn strategies from others.  Without further ado, below are 10 facts that marketers probably don’t want the unsuspecting consumer to know.

1.  We know a lot about you than you think you do.  Are you one of those people that uses an obscure search engine, or go into private browsing mode, constantly clearing your browser history, or creating aliases?  In the end, I don’t think it matters what you use because if you have created an account using your real credentials at any point in time of that computer’s existence then it is possible to link your computer usage to every website you ever visited with every search query you have ever conducted.  When you use the internet you are being tracked and I’m sorry to break it to you but there is nothing you can do about it. (“…but I hear stories of how people can be anonymous”)  Yes, technically, anything is possible and you can remain anonymous, but the measures you have to take is quite exccessive.  Here is one example of a professional who tried ridiculously hard to stay anonymous. – http://bit.ly/16JdrWd

2.  Ever see a link like the one I just shared in #1?  It is a normal link that is shortened from bitly.com.  For example, I take a normal link like “whatshuang.com” and copy and paste it into a link shortener service like “bitly.com” and the service will spit out a shortened link like this – http://bit.ly/HAr7No. So what is the point of this?  The service kind of boomed when twitter users needed a way to share long hyperlinks without taking up the limited amount of characters allowed in a tweet.  Nowadays, marketers are using it as a way to track how many people click on your link, from where, how it is being shared, and even who shared it.

I try to shorten every link that I share in a blog or social media in this way because it is just another strategy for me to track you.  Pro-tip: The next time you see a shortened link add a plus sign at the end of it (+) and you can see all of the statistics for yourself.  IE: http://cnn.it/19EHmDb+

3.  As I mentioned in #1, I said it was possible to track everything you do, but I didn’t say it was easy.  I would also like to give the benefit of the doubt that most marketers would like to track everything you do in the most ethically accepted way possible that is not breaking the law.  With that said, while working in the confines of the law, marketers are having a rather difficult time trying to understand how you behave on the internet.  One of the reasons why we are having a difficult time is because you are very fickle when it comes to the internet.  You see, you sometimes visit our website on your computer, then you continue to browse on our website using your mobile phone, then you share the site with a friend and continue to browse on your friend’s device and finally make a purchase when you are at your grandma’s house using her tablet.  Do you see the problem here?  In my example, you have visited my website a total of four times, but in my eyes I see it as four visits with four different customers.  Want to make our lives more difficult?  Just pick up 10 different devices and start browsing willy nilly.

4.  What exactly happens after you subscribe to a newsletter on a website?  I can certainly tell you what’s possible.  Depending on how intelligent the email aggregator is we are able to tell what your email is (obviously), at what time you signed up, an approximate location of where you are, what pages you browsed on the site, how long you browsed the site, and what device you used to browse the site.  We could also go much further and take an extrapolation of your age, gender, your likes and dislikes based on trends of the typical usage patterns that visit that website.  Details about you get even more granular when you create an account and leave a password.  By the way, even though businesses should take measures in securing customer data like passwords, most companies don’t do their due diligence and it is quite easy for anyone working within a corporation to see this data.  Ever give up your social security, credit card, or other type of identifying information?  Do you think this data is only available for a small group of people in the company looking out for your best interest?  No, most likely, if the company is a data driven business, your information is statistically analyzed, plotted, presented, and graphed across the entire organization.  We do this to see how we can squeeze ever last dollar out of you mathematically.  Just when you think we can’t possibly optimize the amount of time to get you to a sale any further we continue to optimize.

5.  URL’s are fancier than you think.  Almost everyone knows what a URL is by now right?  It is where you type in an address to go to a webpage like www.google.com.  What most people don’t know is that marketers make up URL’s on the fly to track and tag certain campaigns that they are running.  For instance, if I wanted to see how many people clicked on a link in an email I sent last week, I wouldn’t be able to do that without methodically custom tagging links inside my email.  For example, if I want to identify customers that came to my site in response to an email I sent I would insert a custom link by appending a custom parameter at the end of the URL in the hyperlink like (?v=newsletter).

In other words, instead of putting a link like this: whatshuang.com I would instead put a link like this whatshuang.com/?v=newsletter in my newsletter.  Both of these URL’s go to the same place, but the other is just a way for marketers to track campaigns in web analytics.  Of course this is just an arbitrary example, but the lesson here is anything after the question mark (?) you can essentially append any parameter that you can think of.  For instance, if you wanted to track an ad campaign that you’re running in google adwords, Google has a handy URL builder that helps you tag your campaigns so that your campaigns can be organized and identified correctly in Google Analytics.  Keep in mind that there are some caveats for tagging campaigns and it varies case by case based on objectives and goals.  Next time you see a long URL with a question mark and don’t want to be attributed to a specific campaign just delete it and smile at your triumph over marketers.

6.  Before the internet came about marketing was kind of an enigma in the sense that when you launch a campaign you kind of just hoped your campaign was a success.  You couldn’t really tell things were a success until it was a success.  Nowadays you launch a campaign and you can more or less instantly tell whether your campaign was a success.  Which leads to my next point in that every opportunity we get is an opportunity to test you.  You are our lab rat and we take every opportunity to test how you respond.  For instance, if you visit the homepage of a website, the buttons, text copy, layout, and colors could be completely different compared to what your neighbor sees.  Good marketers like to test whether or not one page layout is more effective in getting you to buy products compared to another.  Similarly, it isn’t just the web page we are testing.  We also like to test newsletters, advertisements, direct mail, mobile apps, social media messages, the list goes on.  You view our product as one experience, but behind the scenes we are busy monitoring which one of our multiple experiences is the most effective in converting into a sale.

7.  Subject lines are all methodically worded to get you to open an email or click on the link so you can go to the destination that we want you to go to.  Have you ever wondered what actually made you click on that link you saw on Facebook?  What about what made you open an email newsletter from a company?  Subject lines are carefully crafted from marketers, but they all share the same formula.  Subject lines generally use words like “you.”  We use the word “you” as a setup to present our value proposition that benefits you.  We know that if we somehow convinced you that you need this information, product, service then it would pique your interest.

Another strategy that we like to use is what we call “top” lists.  Almost every website uses “top” articles to generate clicks.  You may see these articles at least once a day but they all start out with titles such as, “Top 10 Ways to Lose Weight, Top 3 Things to Earn More Money, or 6 Top Celebrities Who Make Billions.”  I am pretty confident that if any of those titles that I just gave as examples were actual links it would be very hard for you not to click on them.  This is sometimes bad for the internet because we are often crafting articles around the subject title and not focused on providing value in the content itself.

8.  Images are methodically chosen as click bait.  Similar to what I spoke about in #7, article images and freeze framed images on videos are also carefully chosen to pique your interest.  Sometimes the image of the article has absolutely nothing to do with the article, but at least it caught your eye and made you click through the page.  The good marketer will often chose a unique interesting image that is relevant to the content while the sleaze bag marketer will probably choose a sleazy image that they know gets clicks.  Just remember, if the image is sleazy, the destination will often take you to a dark corner of the web that your mom probably wouldn’t approve of.

9.  Progressive profiling.  Ever heard of it?  It is another term we marketers use to suck information out of you until we know you better than you know yourself.  All of us have at one point in time filled out a web form on the internet.  Web forms can be anything that you have to give to a site in order to complete an action.

Marketers use a method called progressive profiling.  Marketers understand that people have a certain level of insecurity giving up too much of their information at once.  Which is why we devised a way to slowly ease out your information.  Remember the tale of the frog that is being cooked to death by slowly increasing the temperature of a pot of water?  This is what is happening!….only not as dramatic.

We start by asking for the bare essentials.  For example, if you wanted to become a member in an online community we simply ask about what you would like your login ID to be and maybe a password.  You register with the site and leave.  The next time you come back and log back into your account you discover that you can’t post a question on the message board….unless we know your first and last name.  You fill out your first and last name, post your question, and leave the site.  The next time you return to the site you discover that in order to purchase items you must have a verified address.  Naturally of course, you continue to fill out information of your address.

As you can see, we didn’t ask all of those fields up front because we know asking too many questions scare you off.  We asked these bits of information from you over time and by the end of it we practically know what street you grew up in and the name of your first grade teacher! 😉

10.  Personalization is a rare thing.  What I mean by that is we know people don’t want to be marketed to.  People want other people to listen to their needs and wants and provide solutions for them.  People don’t like it when they get automated email messages.  Our solution to this “problem” is to leverage all of the available data we have collected about you and personalize anything we can to make it seem like we know exactly what you’re looking for and that you are our only customer.

For instance, most of the newsletters you receive these days probably start with Dear [Your Name].  No, someone didn’t actually write that email.  Someone created a template and pulled your name from a database and inserted it into the campaign.  Companies can be even smarter and custom tailor the messages by their own internal ways of segmenting their customers into specific buckets to really squeeze that engagement level as high as possible.

In Conclusion…..

The facts I have talked about is merely to give a behind the scenes look at our profession.  Some of it may come as a surprise and some of it may be educational.  I hope marketing as a whole is working towards a better customer experience when it is all said and done.  In the end, the best marketing is all about making the customer happy and if we can’t achieve that then we have failed as marketers.

Now that we have reached the end it is your turn.  Are you a marketer?  What click bait tactics do you use?  What information sucking strategies are you privy to?  Leave them in the comments below.

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