With the holiday shopping season about to come upon us, we thought that now would be an excellent time to help you beef up your knowledge of the tricks that marketers use – both online and offline – to convince you to buy more, more, more. While “tricks” is a strong word and could likely be just as easily replaced with the word “tactics,” the end result is the same. You’re encouraged to buy things you may not even need (or want for that matter) based on the clever idea of a marketer. And yes, we concede that many of these ideas are clever.  Today in the third installment of the series, we’re talking specifically about marketing tactics that involve sign-ups. You can back up to read about tactics used online, in brick and mortar stores or stay tuned for the topics of upgrades and data collection.

Number One: The Facebook Contest. Win Big. Spend Bigger.

While contest and raffles aren’t exclusive to Facebook, the social platform has become a hotbed of companies offering a chance to win free product through a random drawing. We’ve seen nail polish, boots, computers and even plated meals being raffled off this way. Of course, there’s only one way to truly get entered into these raffles, and that’s to provide a valid email address for them to contact you if you win. That would be just great if that was the only thing your email address was being used for. But then what would be the point of the raffle for the company doing it? The purpose of the raffle or giveaway is specifically for the company to collect email addresses of people who have shown some type of interest in their product and then, of course, to use those email addresses to market to those people. And the company will be able to market to them effectively because they already know that the person has at least a minor interest in the product. And before you get angry that your email will be used this way, rest assured that these terms were definitively in the small print when you entered the giveaway. The chance that you will win the prize? Often times it’s literally one in a million. The chance that you will be marketed to via the email you provided? One hundred percent. The solution? Sign up for the raffle. Then immediately unsubscribe if you don’t win.

Number Two: The Free Newsletter. Nothing is Free.

Newsletters are great and we all love them. In fact, we hope that you love the Postconsumers newsletter. But even we slide a tiny pitch for our interactive web course on how much is enough into our free newsletters. That doesn’t make our newsletters any less awesome, but it does mean that you’re getting some marketing with your content. However, Postconsumers is not like any other company and we really truly don’t want to advertise to you and we honor your email, privacy and the understanding that you signed up for a content newsletter more than many would. In many cases, signing up for a free newsletter is a free pass to receive tons of marketing messages and advertisements. In the best case scenario, these advertisements will be woven into the content of your newsletter. In the worst case scenario, by opting into the newsletter you’re also opting into the delivery of marketing messages directly to your inbox. And we have talked before about how effective solo marketing emails are. The solution? If you truly value the content of the newsletter, you’ll just need to exert some willpower. But always check. Often times, when you sign up for a newsletter it will automatically also sign you up for marketing emails but there will also be a link (usually at the bottom of the email) to manage your subscriptions and continue to get the newsletter while opting out of the marketing messages.

Number Three: The Live Raffle. You’re Not Even Thinking About Your Data Implications.

Imagine the scenario. You’re walking through your local community fest. A company or brand is there raffling off a prize. All you need to do is fill out a raffle form. Of course, that raffle form likely contains fields for ways to contact you. One of them will be email, but chances are that you’re giving up your mailing address as well. And even if you’re not giving up your mailing address, at many of these types of events you’ll be able to be profiled as being “local.” But you’re less likely to be thinking about the implications of revealing your “sign-up” information because you’re at an offline event and you’re involved in the day. Of course, how your sign-up information will be used is exactly the same as if you provided it online. Prepare for an onslaught of both email and physical mail marketing materials that are very tailored to you and very hard to resist. Once again, the best way to avoid this is to avoid the giveaway altogether. Think about the chances of your winning versus the chances of your spending money as a result of the marketing materials you’ll receive afterward.

Number Four: The “Opt In” During Purchase. Special Deals, Yes!

Number four on our list is actually the least offensive way to get you to sign-up for marketing materials because it actually requires you to take action and willingly and knowingly sign-up. So why are we even bringing it up? It’s because we want you to be aware of why you’re giving up your sign-up information and how it’s going to be used. This method is utilized when you’re checking out during an online purchase or sign-up and after you’ve entered your information you’re asked to check a box that says you want to receive special offers or other information. It’s important to note that in this case the box isn’t pre-checked and you have to “opt-in” to receiving information. If you want to receive marketing emails and other information, that’s certainly your call. But understand that you’re being asked to opt-in to email service specifically so that the brand or company can use the data from your purchase history to very carefully tailor and target email advertisements at you. We frequently advise the wisdom of unsubscribing from all marketing emails on this site, so we’re obviously also going to advise the wisdom of not signing up for them to begin with!

Number Five: The “Opt Out.” Did You Even Know That You Signed Up?

There’s a reason that the technique we’re about to describe is the most common way to convince you to sign-up to receive emails from a brand or company. It’s because it’s the most effective, and it’s effective because often you don’t even realize that you’re signing up for anything. It’s called “opting out” because for you to not receive the marketing communications you have to actively opt-out of the list. What does this mean? It means that when you check out or make a purchase on a website, there is a tiny box that says you “want” to receive emails and promotions from the company and (this is the important part) unless you physically notice and take the time to uncheck that box you are legally on the mailing list. Now, let’s also be honest. When making a purchase online, how often do any of us actually even notice those boxes or read what we’re agreeing to? That may be our own faults, but it’s still a bit sneaky. And yes, you could always unsubscribe from the emails after you begin receiving them, but the brand or company is counting on the fact that you consider that a hassle. What’s the cure to what ails you? Be very, very cognizant when you’re checking out during an online purchase – or for that matter filling out any form online – that you’re not automatically being opted into an email list and if you are be sure to opt out of that email list.

Number Six: The Exclusive Deals. Really, They Are Usually Not.

Everybody likes to feel that they are special, and in the consumer mindset this typically translates to wanting to be the first to receive a product, a discount or a piece of information. In fact, you’d be surprised what people are willing to give up in order to get that special treatment. Almost always, if they honestly believe that they’ll be getting something exclusive and with a hint of VIP status involved, they’ll give up their email address to sign up for these special and exclusive emailers. But we are here to tell you the truth from the mouth of an actual marketer. It’s extremely rare that the information, offers or product releases that you are getting are in anyway exclusive. At best, they are exclusive to you and an email list of hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of people. At worst, you would have found the same discount being advertised on the site’s homepage. What’s the way to avoid spending money on exclusive deals that aren’t actually all that exclusive? Knowledge is power. Don’t get fooled into feeling special when, in fact, you’re being manipulated.

Number Seven: Daily Deals. The Worst of the Worst Email Lists.

Finally, we know that we’ve been loud preachers against the daily deal email lists like Living Social and Groupon, but we’re going to dedicate even more print space to begging you at the end of this article as well not to sign up for those emails. Not only are those email lists typically bad for your local merchants (most of them lose money on their deal because the companies that run the email list don’t give them marketing education and support on how to gain customers back), but those types of lists absolutely and without question cause you to spend money and buy both services and “stuff” that you don’t need and may even realize that you don’t want. You’re buying them just because they’re a daily deal – and typically a great daily deal. And you’re being convinced to buy more and more and more because of those deals. That’s the opposite of the direction you want to be going, and very few of us have the will power to truly resist daily deal offers on a regular basis. The answer of course is to not sign up for them!

Marketers don’t mean to be evil. In fact, they’re not. They’re simply people with a job to do using the best tools that they can come up with to do that job. However, we as postconsumers have jobs to do as well. By educating ourselves about these tactics, we can make sure that our decision making is driven by informed and thoughtful choice rather than responses and reactions to marketing tactics.

Did we miss a marketing tactic that involves signing-up for something that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: Mark Smiciklas via Flickr