The perils of ego marketing: How to recognise and fix a bad brand strategy

The perils of ego marketing: How to recognise and fix a bad brand strategy

Polly Kay

Polly Kay
14th May 2019

Many businesses and even marketing professionals compromise the effectiveness of their campaigns and waste ad spend unnecessarily by taking an overly blinkered view of what their customers want and how to present it to them.

Even if you think that your product is the best in the world, telling your prospects that you think so isn’t likely to catalyse a purchase in and of itself. Overly-egotistical marketing approaches or trying to tell prospects what they want and need – or simply assuming that because you think what you offer is awesome, everyone else will see it too – is sometimes known as “ego marketing.” This is one of the most common pitfalls that the owners of SMEs face when marketing their goods or services.

If you are guilty of ego marketing, you’re probably not even aware of the fact, or the types of problems that it can cause. In this article I will explain in more detail what ego marketing actually is, why it is a problem, and how to resolve it in order to grow your business and increase your revenue.

What is ego marketing?

Ego marketing can be explained very simply; it is making your marketing endeavours more about yourself, your brand or even your goods than the people that you are trying to sell them to. It’s about telling prospects what they want or you think they should want from an original position of assumption that they will follow the same thought process as you and appreciate the value in what you are offering, rather than catalysing and supporting the prospect’s buyer journey to ascertaining this for themselves.

It’s about talking rather than listening – telling rather than asking and providing solutions. Ego marketing is more about the “I” or the “we,” and the brand than the prospect; it is the “we offer,” and the “this is why we’re important” rather than outlining how you or your product solves a problem or answers the needs of a prospect.

Examples of ego marketing can be seen across all industries and at all levels, but it is particularly common in SMEs where just one person or a small team who may not be marketing specialists are responsible for brand strategy and marketing decisions. This is due to a lack of understanding of the principles of effective marketing itself.

The fact that SME marketing teams tend to be small in nature means that the opportunities for another member of the team to spot and curtail an ego marketing approach are fewer too, further exacerbating the problem.

Why is ego marketing a problem?

So, why is ego marketing a problem? Well, if you’ve ever been on a date with someone who only talked about themselves never letting you get a word in edgeways, bigging up their achievements and generally trying to dazzle you with their awesomeness, you can probably remember how annoyed, frustrated and bored this made you feel.

Much as that blind date trying to “sell” themselves to you by making it all about them rather than finding out what you want and need and who you are as a person is apt to generate a negative response, ego marketing has much the same effect on your prospects.

Even if a prospect can’t pick out exactly what about the approach’s tone, style or content generates a negative perception, the end result is the same. Nobody likes to feel as if they’re being preached to or lectured at, nor made to feel that the product they are offered is obviously the right pick and if they can’t see this or want to find out more first, they’re not valued or not smart enough to appreciate what’s on offer.

If your marketing and ad collateral generates a feeling of resentment, confusion, or being pushed into a decision with the impression of “if you don’t buy it, you’re a fool,” you will alienate your prospects because they will feel that they’re not getting the message, they’ve missed something obvious (such as the answer to their question about why they need this product and should buy it from you) or that you’re being overly pushy.

All of these things create a bad impression and hamper brand perception, and compromise your chances not just of making a one-off sale, but also of winning your prospect’s custom in the future too.

How do marketers and businesspersons develop an ego marketing mindset?

SMEs that are new to the market or that have only recently begun to take off spend a lot of their time convincing decisionmakers to take a gamble on them; from suppliers to funding partners and much more besides. A large part of developing a business plan and building a business involves convincing others of its value and reason to get on board with it, and being backwards about coming forwards or being overly self-effacing about how well the business might do commonly results in missed opportunities.

This means that even first-time business owners who start their operation with no preconceptions about the best approach to take will often begin to think in a certain way, which may well be suited to other elements of the business. However, thinking, speaking and portraying information in the right way for a business plan or investor meeting can soon become ingrained if that’s what you’ve spent a lot of time doing, and the language and speech patterns and mindsets that this involves can soon transfer over to other areas of the operation too – such as marketing.

Additionally, because few SME owners and decisionmakers have a professional marketing background themselves, understanding that effective marketing starts with identifying prospects and tailoring the tone and style of your marketing collateral to match them isn’t always self-evident.

This can lead to a propensity to developing an ego marketing mindset early on in the business’s development, without realising that this approach is self-limiting or even that a better approach exists at all.

Common types of ego marketing and how to fix them

In order to identify and correct ego marketing within your own business or brand, you first have to know how ego marketing presents itself, and where to look for examples of it in action. Next, I will share six examples of common types of ego marketing, and how to fix them.

1. Brand arrogance – telling, not asking

It is all too easy for a brand to come across as arrogant, because there is a fine line between hiding one’s light under a bushel and being too pushy about directing the customer journey.

If your marketing and ad collateral comes off in any way as “this is the best and you’d be mad to think otherwise” or starts from a point of assumption that your prospects are already invested in a purchase and if you just shout a little louder they’ll make it, you’re probably practicing ego marketing.

Making your marketing more about yourself or the brand than your prospects involves telling people what they want instead of outlining how what you have fulfils a need or tackles a pain point, which is often perceived as patronising or misleading.

Similarly, personalised collateral should be personalised to your prospects and what they want, rather than being about the people and brand selling it. If you’re adding in “notes from the MD” and so on within your marketing collateral, are they really necessary and of value to the prospect? Is the message itself important for its readers, or is it more designed as an opportunity to place the owner’s stamp on things and get their name seen?

This is rarely valuable for prospects, and again, can generate a sense of self-importance on the part of the brand.

2. Inaccurate or incomplete market research and demographic targeting

To be able to target prospect demographics effectively with the right type of marketing approach, you first have to know who they are. Until you’ve conducted your market research, you won’t have a good impression of who your target demographics actually are, and a surprising number of SMEs don’t really pay any mind to this at all.

Another example of ego marketing is simply believing that your offerings are so good that everyone will not only want them, but know immediately that they do want them, and that they should buy them from you. Even if your goods and services have a wide and diverse appeal, different types of demographics will have different reasons for wanting or needing them. They need to know why and how your offerings fulfil their requirements, and your offerings need to be showcased and advertised to each defined demographic in such a way as to appeal to them personally.

Failing to undertake sufficient market research, gaps or inaccuracies in your market research, poor demographic targeting and an unwillingness to regularly revisit and review your demographic targeting and its efficacy are all likely to hamper growth, and indicate an ego marketing mindset.

3. Working through the sales funnel backwards

When you have determined your different target demographic audiences, you will probably start to develop sales funnels for each of them to direct the customer journey, identify problems, and catalyse sales. It may seem self-evident, but designing an effective sales funnel for any demographic group relies upon understanding the demographic in question and identifying and negating their pain points, and building a bespoke sales funnel to fit around their needs.

However, ego marketers often try to work the sales funnel in reverse, beginning with the final stage (the purchase or acquisition) and trying to fit their prospects’ behaviour and thought processes into it; which can ultimately result in trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

You can’t make a random prospect fit into any given sales funnel (rather than vice versa) with anything other than dumb luck; you have to design your sales funnels around your prospect demographics, building and fine-tuning them accordingly to reflect the natural steps in the customer journey and their progression from interest to purchase.

4. Failing to read the market and predict change

Marketing, ad placement, demographic targeting and everything else are variables rather than fixed endeavours, which need to be able to adapt and change as necessary to meet the business’ needs.

This applies across most areas of a business and not just marketing; what people want changes over time, previously popular products fall out of favour or reach market saturation, new competitors enter the market, and the endless march of tech moves ever-forwards.

Market research, finding demographic targets and establishing the best ways to reach out to them all take a lot of time and effort, which can cause many smaller businesses to breathe a sigh of relief when this is all done, and give thanks that it’s out of the way.

However, keeping an eye on the market, the wider industry and how people’s wants and needs change over time is an integral part of every successful business, and failing to do so is a classic example of ego marketing.

Counteract this by scheduling regular reviews of your demographic targeting, competitor activities, products and offerings and marketing approach, and keep on top of industry news and tech advances within your niche too.

5. Avoiding panic mentality

If your business is in its early stages and just getting off the ground, cashflow problems might well be one of the largest and most challenging issues you will face along the way.

Failing to achieve the projected level of sales, a lack of interest in your goods or services or failing to reach your target demographics effectively can all potentially herald the early demise of a fledgling enterprise, as can short-term cash flow problems even when the money is already rolling in.

Attempting to address and mitigate such issues is vital to any business that wishes to survive, but taking the wrong approach to doing so in your panic to right the balance can have exactly the opposite effect, and lose both new and existing customers who might otherwise have developed their own brand loyalty to you.

If you’re struggling to free up funds, boost revenue or increase your cashflow, there are any number of short-term solutions that on the face of it, might seem like easy remedies for restoring your balance sheets into the black.

However, many of these represent examples of ego marketing, and will effectively result in a high chance of you shooting yourself in the foot with such an approach, or throwing the baby out with the bath water, to give another allegory.

If you need to increase revenue but can’t increase sales, raising your prices a little may be very tempting; as can decreasing the quality of your goods by using cheaper raw materials or production methods. Whilst this might lead to a quick, short-term injection of revenue, in the long term, it is likely to cost you sales; becoming a self-perpetuating vicious circle or race to the bottom, until you’ve run out of approaches and bail-out methods to try next time there’s a stopper in the works, whilst losing customers along the way at every stage too.

It can be very tempting to take dramatic short-term approaches like this to boost revenue, but a vastly superior approach is to look properly at the root cause of the problem itself – such as targeting the wrong demographics, targeting the right demographics but in the wrong way, failing to compete with others offering competing goods, or weak areas of a sales funnel that are compromising sales.

Adjusting a price point or an item’s quality or key features in such a way as to increase revenue whilst also decreasing the value for your prospect, or similar approaches such as these are a clear example of ego marketing, and rely upon the assumption that your prospects won’t notice or won’t care that you’re ultimately trying to hoodwink them.

6. Ignoring potential revenue streams and buyer demographics

Every brand and business can build buyer personas to represent examples of members of the specific demographics that they target, which can help with consumer insights and provide direction for your marketing approaches.

Many brands also have a very clearly delineated brand image that is both designed to appeal to their target demographics and that in many ways, dictates them too. A lot of brands are guilty of ignoring potentially valuable revenue streams that might come from unrecognised or supposedly less desirable demographics that don’t fit in with the brand’s ethos and image.

Whilst an instinctive reaction from most business owners is that they would never ignore waiting cash and potential revenue streams, this is not always the case; but in some cases, different demographics can actually be contradictory to each other, and simultaneously targeting two divergent demographics at once can compromise the effectiveness of at least one of them.

Deliberately putting a certain viable demographic on the back burner or failing to recognise and serve them at all can fairly be described as an example of ego marketing; it is like saying “your money isn’t good enough for us.” However, this final example of ego marketing is a little more complex, because it might end up being the exception that proves the very rule of ego marketing itself.

It might seem counterintuitive to ignore or even discourage a certain demographic of buyers, and when it comes to the goal of increasing revenue alone, this is certainly the case.

However, if targeting, marketing to or serving a certain demographic compromises brand perception and appeal for a larger or more lucrative demographic, avoiding doing so might be the right approach.

For instance, imagine that you are the seller of a luxury haircare range aimed at professional women with an interest in health and beauty and a high disposable income. You’ll be marketing your lines as high quality, premium goods, and developing your supporting marketing collateral to match this image.

Imagine next, if you will, that your market research and brand monitoring reveals that a small but significant number of people who are purchasing your products are doing so because they’ve found them to be excellent for bathing their dogs for dog shows. Whilst marketing your products to this demographic might represent a rich, waiting stream of revenue for the taking, your core buyers of professional women looking for luxury, high-end hair care are likely to be turned off by this approach and the negative associations that it generates, compromising brand perception for buyers of that type.

Your product is still good, it still works in the same way, and it still holds value for its designed use, but if the brand ethos doesn’t resonate in the minds of your prospects or worse, turns them off, targeting every single demographic stream might well be a terrible idea.

However, if you can successfully recognise and market to vastly different types of prospect demographics effectively without risking them contradicting each other, you can maximise revenue without leaving any money on the table.

In the example given above, a committed SME looking to cash in on a waiting audience of buyers who don’t gel with the brand’s image and ethos might even consider diversifying their product range to offer an entirely separate line targeting pet owners, without risking the reputation of the brand’s flagship product range.

For most SMEs, facing an issue of conflicting or contradictory product applications and buyer demographics is fairly rare, although you should work through everything properly with a wary eye out for potential conflicts.

Doing the groundwork can help you to identify and target different prospect groups without conflicts, using the most appropriate approach for each one.

Final thoughts on avoiding an ego marketing mindset

Identifying and tackling ego marketing can be difficult, because it is so very hard to be objective about one’s own biases and standpoint on things. However, once you can begin to recognise the signs of ego marketing in general (both within your own marketing collateral and that which you see produced by other companies and brands) you will be much better positioned to seek them out and tackle them within your own enterprise.

A quick and simple way to start identifying whether or not ego marketing has worked its way into your own ad collateral is to look at both the big picture and the general tone and approach your brand’s marketing portrays, and also to examine the different elements of your sales funnels individually too.

Viewing things through your prospect’s eyes from interest to sale (and if possible, asking some friends or family members who are not involved in the business themselves to do the same) can help you to feel any sticking points for yourself, and assess how the approach you are taking makes you feel and respond. Does it incentivise a purchase, or is it too patchy, pushy, or concerned with shouting about how great you are to really seal the deal?

If creating your external ad collateral and other content such as your website text makes you feel as if you need to constantly tell prospects that your products are the best, that you are the best, or that buying from you is pretty much a no-brainer, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Your products and approach need to speak for themselves in many ways; showing their value, demonstrating why they are superior, and outlining clearly what makes them the best choice. If you’re struggling to pinpoint and highlight these facts, it might be because you know them so well that they seem obvious, although they won’t be to your prospects – or, it might be because your products aren’t strong enough compared to competitors (either due to their own merits or their price point).

If the latter is the case, fixing the wider issue is likely to be time-intensive and potentially complicated – but an ego marketing mindset won’t save an ailing or uncompetitive product line or approach, and won’t pay off in the long term.