One problem, of course, is that advertising and marketing people, being what they are, will almost always tell you they are trying to serve the customer. (And they generally believe it.) To tell the good from the bad, you will have to use your own moral compass.
The bigger one, though, is that it's an arms race. In a perfect world, nobody would push anything. You could just release your new product; those hungry for a solution would find it and become your customers. Sadly, those people right now are being aggressively manipulated by your competitors. They will never hear about your product. If you want to succeed, you will have to get your hands dirty with actual marketing.
Personally, I bridge the gap by asking myself three things:
1. Are we legitimately creating value for our customers? Would they be better off using our product?
2. Is our approach to marketing reasonably ethical, and at least no worse than the competition?
3. In the long term, are we acting in ways that will reduce the arms race, or at least make it no worse?
Knowing what people will enjoy is part of marketing. "Marketing" is commonly thought of as "advertising", but the full meaning includes choosing what to build - what do people need? What will help them?
Now, a favoured open source technique for doing this is to scratch your own itch... the thinking is that if it annoys you, it probably annoys lots of other people. A kind of marketing that requires a lot of faith! But is sometimes very effective.
We can go a step further, and ask now that we have solved this problem, it's not doing much good if the people who need it don't have it! How will they find out about it? This is getting pretty close to advertising... but the least-scummy way to do it is rely on word-of-mouth. This is actually how people find out about stuff in general. You can assist this process by just articulating just what it is you have, and what problem it solves, in a pithy, easy-to-remember, easy-to-pass-on phrase. You might have a little story (or joke) that helps carry it along. But the non-scummy part about this is that people problem won't pass it on if they don't think it's any good. They aren't getting paid to shill.
One interesting advertising approach is Dropbox's referral program (where you get extra storage by introducing someone to a free Dropbox account). It's hard to see this as scummy, but it's extremely effective "advertising". Even having a free version in the first place is an aspect of marketing.
Finally, consider the problems of a charity, whose only goal is to help people. What help is needed? How to get it to the people who need it? That is "marketing". And pg argues for it as a model for a startup: http://paulgraham.com/good.html
The marketing that I commonly notice is the kind born out of much research on manipulating the thoughts, desires and behaviors of people. It's easy to find examples of this everywhere and is used by most large corporations to achieve what you describe. When thinking about the companies I respect, like Airbnb and Parse, I think of their marketing as more going out and engaging and informing their customer. Should there be a distinction between the two kinds of marketing?
The chestnut for a while has been that marketing consists of 4 p's:
price (how much? how many market offerings? should price go up over time [discounts for early adopters] or down over time [getting rid of excess inventory]?),
product (does anyone want this? are we building a rocketship when they need a bicycle, or vice versa? Are we following existent demand, or creating a new market [iPhone]?),
promotion (this is what 99% of people think about when they think of marketing, but it's important to note there are good things here too. Spammers live here, but so does Apple's 1984 ad), and
place (Do we even want to sell this in Alaska, given that it costs a buttload to ship our product up there? Do the Chinese have an ancestral taboo about our product? Is it so fragile that it's hard to ship reliably, and if so, how do we deal with that?).
The full discipline of marketing actually involves some pretty darn cool stuff, that I guarantee would appeal to your developer mind. One that I'm partial to are shape grammars (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_grammar), where brands try to figure out what about a design (of say Apple, or a Harley Davidson) screams "$BRAND" to a customer.
Marketing is just finding a way to communicate your value proposition to your target market. Yes, there are plenty of scummy ways out there -- but some awesome real-world examples come from our favorite tech startups like 37signals (e.g. their books) and Atlassian (e.g. their git tutorials).
That's the great thing about the inbound/content marketing movement these days -- you are typically not paying people to read it, so you first and have to step back and think, "what can I write about that would grab the genuine interest of people I want to reach?"
Just some thoughts from a product marketing manager at a startup in NYC.
Then I started reading, realized it was about developers marketing. I have never really considered marketing my strong suit so I continued reading.
When he started talking about his book, I felt as though I had been tricked, and I got a little mad. To me, it cheapened the article, and made me feel as if the author didn't really care about informing people, but rather was just looking to promote his book. At that instant I knew he had posted this link on Hacker News not to be informative, but to prey on developers with weak marketing skills, and get them to pay for his book. I normally wouldn't comment on something like this, but since you said so anyway, I would say this is an unethical advertisement because it pretends to be an article, but it actually was an advertisement. If he had said right out, "I have written a book on marketing for developers, here is a sample, and if you are interested you can purchase it here", then I might have been more inclined to purchase it (of course the book isn't even finished yet, so there would be no way to buy it anyway even if I was interested, but that's a separate issue I won't get into here.) Rather, instead the article left a bad taste in my mouth and reinforced my opinion of marketing as something scummy I wouldn't want to get involved with.
OK, the fact that you would use a term like "prey on" in this context tells me that we probably have radically different worldviews, so there may be no point to this exchange, but...
I would say this is an unethical advertisement because it pretends to be an article, but it actually was an advertisement
There's no particular reason a piece of content can't be intended to be both legitimately informative, AND serve to drive awareness of something your selling. In this case, ask yourself this: If you took away the last paragraph or two of the article, would the rest of it still have been informative? Would you have gotten value from it? If so, how is it not an informative article, just because of the blurb tacked onto the end, sharing information about the author's book? Especially when the book is relevant to the audience who would likely discover that article?
OK, I get that a lot of developers just have a sort of general aversion to "all things commercial". Hell, I used to be that way to some extent, but yet I always found marketing fascinating, and now that I run a startup, I find marketing essential, so maybe my views have shifted a bit. Anyway, I understand - to a point - that a lot of us find that commercial interests take away from some notion of essential "purity" or whatever when it comes to technical content. But to call this kind of content marketing "unethical" is a bit extreme, IMO.
And putting that stuff at the bottom has nothing to do with being tricky, or sneaky, or unethical. It just makes more sense to mention the book after the author has demonstrated some credibility through the content in the earlier part of the article.
It wouldn't have been too much trouble to bring those skeptics back to the conversation by adding a short disclaimer closer to the beginning of the article. So why not do it? If the article is going to be both informative and promotional, some will want that expectation to be set right from the beginning. And if the informative bits can stand on their own merit, there's no risk to the promotional side in adding the early disclaimer. (IMO, it's not an unreasonable request, and not without precedent.)
But I get your point. This wasn't a scummy piece of marketing and I found it through a very neutral channel.
I appreciate your perspective. Which CTA, specifically did you find awkward?
(As a side-note: I've had other posts with similar traffic and same landing URL. This one outperformed them by quite a bit. The launch list itself grew 2x)
I did enjoy your article and have given you my email in hopes that I gain some valuable insight. I have always been very skeptical about sales and marketing but have tried to be open to its value. My wife has a more neutral view and can sometimes soften my stance on it.
The software is so good, he just has to make one post on a forum and people are queuing up to throw money at him. All he has to do is sit there and answer questions.
A sample quote from a user: "Bought it without demoing, Due to Sean's great support/dedication."
Note the length of the thread. Also have a look at the diagram on the last page. There is a lot people here could learn from smalltime audio software/hardware developers, who are quietly running scores of successful "lifestyle" businesses, away from the bright lights of the SAAS industry.
Here's another example of a product announcement thread on that forum from a popular indie developer: http://www.gearslutz.com/board/product-alerts-older-than-2-m...
But yeah, if you're looking for an example of good marketing from a big company, good luck I guess.
1. Create a short article repeating common sense that everyone should know.
2. JOIN MY MAILING LIST!
If you think that, you probably don't understand what "marketing" actually is. Marketing is really just everything you do to communicate with your customers, to find out what they need, and communicate to them that you have a solution for them. There's nothing inherently "scummy" about marketing.
Let's say you talk to your barber about scheduling software. That's marketing. Let's say you write some scheduling software and put it up on GitHub. That's marketing. Let's say you go further and post a "Show HN: My Rad New Barbershop Scheduling Package". That's marketing.
Or maybe you go to the National Barber's Association Annual Convention and rent space for a both, and setup a PC (or iPad or whatever) to demo software, and as people walk by you talk to them about their problems and your solution. Again, that's marketing. Or maybe you buy some Google Adwords for your software. Marketing.
Let's say your thing really blows up and you're making money hand over fist and you buy an ad during next year's Super Bowl. That's marketing. Now maybe you find sales are dropping off, and you don't know why, so you create a SurveyMonkey survey asking about Barbershop issues, and email it to all of your existing customers. That's marketing. But maybe that doesn't generate enough responses, so you Tweet the link along with hashtag #barbershops and buy a couple of Facebook ads, and maybe share the link on LinkedIn. That's all marketing.
Running a few focus groups to solicit customer feedback? Marketing. Replying to blog posts related to your topic? Marketing. Blogging about your topic? Marketing.
There's just so much to marketing, and nothing about any of it requires unethical behavior or typical "used car salesman" stuff.
"Marketing" is also strategy... segmenting your market for example, by, say, geography and demographics: deciding "We're only targeting barbershops in the Southeast USA, in cities with at least 40,000 people". And that decision was probably based on market research, which is also part of marketing.
I agree, marketing doesn't require unethical behavior. But marketing in an unethical way is required for many (most?) large business to grow.
But it's not just super-huge companies. Listen to conservative talk radio and it's not long before you hear local ads using fear mongering, anger inciting, self loathing or inadequacy inducing marketing to sell whatever version of local or small time (when compared to super-huge conglomerates) snake oil they have.
Is this advertising? Is advertising separate from sales and marketing and is where most of the evil is introduced? If so it still doesn't give Yum! and the financial industry a pass for what they sell and how they sell it.
Ultimately, if I were to be helpful to others, I would ask them what they want and figure out a way to help them (sales & marketing if you will). For how can I truly build useful products, when I don't actually talk to the people that use them?
Even if you want to give fruits of your labour for free for others to enjoy, you need to market them, because there is a stack of software already doing the same thing for the same cost.
On the other hand, if you have a product you believe in, that is high-quality, and that improves the lives of the customers who could really use it, he felt it was morally wrong NOT to sell it to them.
That is to say that marketing happens naturally when someone places a classified ad or discusses their project with friends and strangers casually.
Taking out a series of ads saying a new product launched and describing its features is surely ethical. Taking out ads lying about the qualities of your product (or omitting important side effects) is unethical. Quietly hiring journalists to write "stories" on you product and its features is likewise dishonest.
so I'd say ethical marketing is honest and forthright. Being considerate about intrusions doesn't hurt either, though being annoying isn't always the same as being unethical.
Then again, I'm not a marketing guy, so maybe I'm missing something.
> "Being considerate about intrusions doesn't hurt either, though being annoying isn't always the same as being unethical."
I'd also say that anytime you put out any type of communication out into the world, you're going to have some people who don't like it.
The key is to reach people where they're at, and try to be helpful. Being tactful (and culturally relevant / appropriate) is important - but it can also lead to paralysis. If you're too concerned about how you're going to be received, you'll never put anything out there (or you'll water it down so it's boring).
If you cannot understand it as it is already, you'll only understand it when you stop being merely a paid developer and become a developer that needs to sell the software he writes.
"If you build it they will come" does not hold. The best product can fail (and often has) because people have not known about it, or it was not presented to them in an appropriate way. That's what marketing does.
What do you do to get paid?
Smiling people is one of them. If your marketing site has pictures of smiling people on it, I am immediately turned off. Look at the billboard on your local subway system. Ads for dentists, graduate degrees, Trident gum, upcoming plays. 9 out of 10 of them have a stock photo of a smiling person, presumably unable to contain their enjoyment of $PRODUCT.
In very rare cases, say, for a Meetup group, or a bike tour, will I see pictures of smiling people that are actually organic. That's fine. It's when they use stock photos that it insults my intelligence and makes me feel like "marketers lying to take my money". The photos aren't even of people paid to pretend to enjoy the product, they're just sub-licensed from Getty. What it tells me is they're more concerned with sales driven by emotion than making a substantive first impression.
To test this, I just thought of the most boring thing I could think of: enterprise resource planning. The first marketing result on Google is this, complete with smiling person:
The best salespeople in the world make you walk away thinking you got a great deal, that you got the upper hand. When I see these blatant plays for emotion, I walk away disgusted.
Correct a Self-Sabotaging Mindset
Marketing is bullshit. Marketing is evil. Marketing is everything that’s wrong
with this world. Marketing is the root of all evil. Marketers should be shot.
I have heard all these statements—and plenty more like them.
If you agree with any of them, you are not alone in your dislike of marketing.
I’ve found that technical people, particularly programmers, tend to have a
strong hatred for marketing.
Antimarketing stances stem partly from bad experiences with manipulative
marketers and partly from a misunderstanding of what marketing actually
Wikipedia defines marketing in this way:
"Marketing is the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers and what strategy to use in sales, communications, and business development."
At its core, marketing is about connecting people to solutions. For example,
some people may have an interest in buying an environmentally friendly car.
Good marketing involves identifying this segment of the population, then
devising a strategy to let that portion of the population know about the existence
of your brand-new hybrid car and its benefits (in a style and manner
that will appeal to them).
Though the ultimate goal is to sell a car, marketing isn’t about convincing
people who are not interested in your product to buy it. It’s about exposing
the right product to the right audience. Done correctly and in an ethical
manner, it’s possible to promote without deceiving, manipulating, or forcing
people to spend their hard-earned money on goods they don’t want or need.
It’s important to understand that marketing is so much more than just
advertising. Marketing encompasses countless aspects of your product,
including what you name it before it even exists.
If you still feel that marketing is mostly evil, I encourage you to reflect on the
forms of marketing you already do, perhaps without even realizing that they’re
marketing. Ever applied for a new job? Or dated someone? While you probably
didn’t misrepresent yourself with your future employer or partner by blatantly
lying, you still wore nice clothes and tried to showcase your favorable traits.
In doing so you were marketing yourself.
In blogging, the aim of your marketing is to reach as many people who are
potentially interested in your content as possible. As we’ll see in future
chapters, you may also have related additional goals, such as promoting
yourself professionally, marketing yours and other people’s products, and so
Like all tools, marketing can be used for good or in unethical, obnoxious ways.
In this book, I advocate only white-hat marketing techniques that will get
your content in front of the people who need to see it. So if you are the
stereotypical antimarketing developer, please approach the rest of the chapter
with an open mind. I promise that you won’t have to sell your soul.
real gifts are given unconditionally, with no expectation of anything in return. if you can simply give advice with no marketing, plugging, or bullshit, it shows your intentions are pure. you expect nothing and simply want to better someone else's life. when you market to me, i have to assume that you are using me to make money.
people have to eat out here, but there is an appropriate time and place for marketing your services and products. when you blur the line between who you are as a businessman and who you are as a person, you are severely tarnishing your character imo. (not that the comment was even that bad, but i'm talking about marketing in general)
There's nothing wrong with charging for goods and services. If someone needs something, and I provide it, it's totally ethical to get some money for that. It's still 100% possible to use good judgement and "simply want to better someone else's life" without throwing your morals to the wind.
People can make businesses out of things they are really passionate about, and things that other people really need. It's not necessary to have any line between "you" and "businessperson you". If you want to be a good businessperson, you must first be a good human being.
If the comment was helpful, as you say it was, then who gives a shit?
Sometimes it is hard to know what you want and marketing can help you figure it out.