Deceit is a lousy way to start business relationships

Long ago, Sir Walter Scott penned some advice today’s business leaders would be wise to remember: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive!”

That quote came to mind after a greeting-card envelope appeared in this week’s mail. No return address, no stamp, just a colorful envelope. I slit it open with eager curiosity and was instantly disappointed. Inside was an internet provider’s latest pitch disguised as a greeting card. Was I flattered? Touched? Impressed by the cleverness? No, I was repulsed by the idea that this large company thought that tricking someone into believing they had received a personal message from a friend or loved one was the best way to sell their latest package.

That company isn’t alone. Others mail businesslike letters with no return addresses, leading the recipient to wonder what’s inside, only to discover another pitch. Some use type and imagery that implies some sort of government notice. Once again, it’s just a sales pitch (often, in the form of a fake invoice).

I understand the idea behind this approach. They assume you’d ignore a piece of mail that was clearly labeled as coming from their offices or in which it was obvious that you were being presented with an offer. You’re more likely to open a mystery envelope.. But here’s the thing: when you discover that they were deceiving you, your response isn’t going to be “what clever folks … I’d love to do business with them.” Instead, you’re going to react like Christmas Story’s Ralphie did when he decoded his secret message from Little Orphan Annie: “A crummy commercial?”

Your marketing materials stand in your place. You want to create the right impression of your company and what it has to offer. Do you really want that first impression to be that you’re a deceptive liar?

Yes, being upfront and honest may reduce the number of people who open your envelope, but those who do will have a genuine interest or healthy curiosity. In contrast, nobody you deceive is going to want to do business with you. They may open the envelope, but not only will they not respond … they’ll remember you in a negative way.

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