Are You Being (Self) Served?

With the US elections just a few days away, the media is paying close attention to the battle between Democrats and Republicans. Me, I’ve been captivated this election season by something decidedly less high profile… “Question 1” on the Massachusetts state ballot.

In a nutshell, Question 1, if passed, would permit grocery stores to sell wine.

That’s right. In Massachusetts, you can only purchase alcohol at a liquor store (or “package store,” as we like to call them). I’m not sure what the thinking was that put this restriction into place way back when, but this observation by famous Massachusetts patriot and politician Samuel Adams may be instructive:

“Had I knowne that alcohol wouldst be sold in a common grocery shoppe henceforth, I wouldst not halfe waited so damn long to found mine own brewing company.”

Admittedly, I’m paraphrasing.

Samuel Adams aside, what’s caught my interest regarding Question 1 is not the debate itself, but rather, who’s doing the debating.

Because believe it or not, leading the charge on the “No” side (i.e. no wine in grocery stores), and largely on the grounds of preventing “underage youth’s access to alcohol… and drunk driving fatalities,” is… (here comes the punch line)… the liquor store owners themselves!

Ha, ha! It’s enough to make you spill your daiquiri. In fact, the “No” argument that appears on the official ballot is attributed to “Wine Merchants and Concerned Citizens for S.A.F.E.T.Y. (Stopping Alcohol’s Further Extension to Youth).”

Personally, I have nothing against liquor store owners making a good living. And for all I know, their argument that a “Yes” vote would lead to bad things may in fact be true. But it seems to me, that if you’re all that concerned about “stopping alcohol’s further extension to youth,” that maybe – and this is just my personal opinion – you shouldn’t own a liquor store to begin with!

What’s this got to do with E-Newsletters? Hang on, I’m getting to it.

Think about this. When a liquor store owner argues against expanding alcohol availability on the grounds of “youth safety,” two things happen:

  1. You reject the argument. It’s so plainly self-serving that you don’t even bother looking further at the facts.
  1. You wonder what else he’s not telling you. If he neglects to mention the obvious damage that passage of this law would have on his own profits (in the hope, I suppose, that we don’t notice), you start wondering what other aspects of the way he does business might not quite be what they seem.

Now take a look at your E-Newsletter. Does it provide real, useful, unbiased information, or do you subtlety (and not so subtlety) keep suggesting that readers engage your services?

For example…

If you’re a financial planner, do you argue for the importance of risk management in general, or do you recommend your own, five step approach?

If you’re a mortgage broker, do you clarify the pros and cons of various financing options, or do you make the case for why hiring a mortgage professional is in the best interest of readers?

If you’re an E-Newsletter consultant (watch it), are you explaining concepts that are of use to clients and do-it-yourselfers alike, or do you try to scare people into believing they need to outsource to a professional? (Boo!)

You get the idea. With E-Newsletters, as with politics, the level of suspicion among the consuming public is so high, that unless you want items 1 and 2 above applied to you, you need to go out of your way to avoid the appearance of being self-serving. All it takes is one reference to your “superior approach,” or one water-tight explanation of why the service you offer just happens to be the perfect solution, and readers will run in the other direction (permanently).

Bottom Line. I know that the purpose of a professional service E-Newsletter is to generate more business. And it’s fine to promote yourself in the promotional sections of your newsletter.

But in the main article, the section which you offer up as having purely valuable information, you need to resist pulling the trigger on self promotion. Unlike most other marketing tools, this one only works if you can demonstrate to readers that you’re willing to put their best interests ahead of your own.

Strive to provide useful, interesting, opinionated-but-unbiased content with every issue. Just as a liquor store owner who came out in favor of Question 1 would instantly get your attention and prove his credibility, you’ll achieve the same when you help readers, without regard for whether or not they buy what you sell.

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