The “I Just Want To Help People” Lie

When someone writes a book entitled “All Marketers Are Liars” they are pretty much putting it out there that you should take everything they themselves say with a grain of salt.  That’s the title of a Seth Godin book and if you haven’t read it, I highly encourage you to do so – I think Purple Cow and Tribes are better, but All Marketers Are Liars is still an interesting read.

For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’ll let you in on a secret, Godin says that marketers are storytellers and their stories should be truthful, but that the audience will ultimately believe what it wants.  With that in mind, you need to tell believable stories.

The interesting paradox though is the title.  The title itself is a lie.  Godin says in the book that marketers shouldn’t lie and should tell believable stories that are in fact true.  So in fact, his marketing to sell the book via the title is, in fact, a lie.  He actually calls it out himself in the introduction – that’s a case of making the skeleton dance.

It’s a clever title for a reasonably interesting book.

But there’s a truism in the title and it applies to Godin himself – sometimes, he just simply tells lies in his marketing.  The lies can be cheeky, like the title of the book or they can be a bit more insidious.

Let’s talk about the big giant insidious lie that many marketers tell, “I just want to help people”.  The premise behind this lie is that in my desperate need to make other people successful, I’m willing to sacrifice my own financial advancement because I just want to help other people reach their goals.

And if you believe that then the queue to the left is for the express shuttle to the swampland in Florida I’d like to make you an unbeatable offer on.

To illustrate the underlying fallacy of this lie, let us turn once again to Seth Godin who in an interview with Tim Ferriss talked about creating online courses.  He was dismayed that 97% of people who buy or sign up for courses online never complete them.  In fact, he tells how he created very highly rated courses on Udemy and Skillshare and still, 80% of the people who bought them, dropped out before finishing.

Gosh darn it though, Seth really just wants to help people.  So he changed things up.

Instead of the course being cheap, he made it expensive.  Instead of it being easy to buy, he made people do an interview, thus making it harder to get in.  Instead of being a bunch of video lectures, it’s practical hands-on assignments.

In simple terms, instead of the course being easy, he wanted it to be hard so that people valued it more… All because he wants to help people.

How very noble of him.

One interesting throw away though when he described it – his courses on Udemy and Skillshare are aimed at individuals but his other program, he alludes to the fact that people who work for bigger companies and some smaller companies are the target.  So he only wants to help people if their company has a significant training budget to waste, er, I mean spend on employee development.

That seems less noble.

But where the lie exposes itself is in the math.

If you offer a “cheap” course for fifty dollars and 1000 people sign up.  Now using Godin’s numbers 80% of the people dropped out and that means he didn’t help them.

Now, let’s say you offer an “expensive” course for a thousand dollars and 100 people sign up.  Again using Godin’s logic, let’s say the higher barrier to entry and the increased value results in only 20% of the people dropping out and not getting Seth’s much-needed help.

That’s basic Pareto Principle stuff – I just used the inverse relationship of the 80/20 rule based on the perceived value he assigned to the two models of courses.

With the “cheap” course that had a high dropout rate, Seth could only manage to help a mere 200 people.  Whereas with the “expensive”, higher value course with higher barriers to entry Seth was able to help a whopping 80 people.

Uh… wait a second.  If the metric that matters is “helping people”, he just helped fewer people.  Oh no?!?!

Fear not, let’s do some more math to see what’s really going on here.

The “cheap” course with 1000 students at fifty bucks is grossing about fifty grand.  That’s a pretty good day’s worth of helping.

The “expensive” course with 100 students at a thousand bucks a pop is pulling in a cool hundred grand.  That seems like a fair bit more helping.

I guess All Marketers Are Liars after all.

And that’s the “I Just Want To Help More People” lie that floats around in the online world all the time.  Coaches, mentors and course instructors all use that line all the time and to me, it always seems totally disingenuous.  The #1 person being helped when they are helping more people is themselves.

I don’t see anything wrong with that.  I want more people to buy my Monthly Newsletter, I think it would be great and there’s heaps to learn every month.  But let’s not mix words here, the more people that sign up, the more I make so that’s a big win for me.  There’s no point hiding that or trying to cover it up in a false veil of selflessness.

The marketing lesson here is to try and be forthright and honest not just in your marketing, but also in your motives.  Sometimes when you’re marketing you need to be a bit elastic with the truth and stretch things a bit, everyone knows that.  What you don’t need to tell fibs about though are your motives – you’re in business to increase your own personal wealth, period.  That’s your primary concern.  And the best way to achieve your ends is to deliver exceptional value to your audience and help them reach their goals.

It’s pretty simple, we don’t need to lie about it.

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