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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Crooks and victims

Overlooking the Atlantic ocean, I think about how people are victimized by crooks, and how crooks go on to further success in their business. As I've grown older, I've seen some bad guys from earlier years resurface again and again, plying their shady practices, in different (yet surprisingly similar) guises, against new sets of victims -- many of whom, you would think, should know better.

Why does this happen? Why do so many white collar criminals end up going to the grave rich and -- if you are measuring success by surface trappings -- successful, despite the pain and hardship they cause others?

I can't entirely answer these questions to my satisfaction, but sense there is a correlation between successful conning and great marketing -- both rely on strong knowledge of emotional as well as practical relationships; and both rely on the ability to move people and decisions in the intended direction, either illicit or honorable.

This suggests that great marketers might learn a little from great con artists. Alternatively, we can look at the techniques of the great con artists and see how we can frame a marketing message to distance ourselves from the crooks.

How do con artists play their game?

  • They fit in and dress up to their role; whether it be the mega-successful executive, or down-to-earth bum.
  • They rely on affinities, relationships, and existing trust connections. Often they find primary victims (or colleagues, depending on intent) at the head of civic, church or community networks.
  • They play to the essential and core human emotions -- they answer your dreams and present an option that is both easy and believable. Instant wealth without effort (or long term security of wealth, without needing to watch things closely); weight loss without stress, relationships perfectly oriented and balanced, happiness, fun.
How can you avoid the cons?
  • The cliche, "If it is too good to be true, it usually is" is usually correct. Nevertheless, don't be afraid to take chances; just don't bet everything on the one sure thing if it involves handing over money or security on your current assets (if you are starting out in business for the first time, for example, you should find a way to do it with sweat, not money, equity.)
  • Watch out for major decisions at emotionally sensitive times -- you may hear what you want to hear and see what you want to see; rather than what is.
  • If you are responding to a word-of-mouth referral, satisfy yourself that the person (or people) referring you are not victims themselves.
How can we learn from the cons?
  • Skillfully respect and respond to emotional cues, and create an environment where word of mouth spreads. You'll build a great brand -- and business.
This article, How to Spot a Con Artist, from the North American Securities Administrators Association, is worthy of review.

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