I’ve been thinking about the state of online marketing lately, and  the more I do, the more I realize that online marketing is a lot like dating.

Full disclosure: I’ve been married for 30-plus years, so dating is (thankfully) way in my past. But I still remember it. And what I remember most is that when it comes down to it, there are two types of guys—there’s the guy who’s honest and open and interested in a conversation and a relationship. And then there’s the “playa.” He’s the one who’s just trying get the quick transaction—and he’ll do just about anything and take just about every angle to get there.Data playa

Let’s say you have a blind date set up. If it’s the playa, he looks at your Facebook profile and finds out that you like Nine Inch Nails. Deep down, he’s a Justin Timberlake kind of guy. But because he’s just looking for a “transaction,” he’ll download some of the rock band’s music and blare it in his car and think, “Yeah, she’s going to like me because I like Nine Inch Nails, too.” But if he were the relationship kinda guy, he’d think, “She likes this industrial rock band. I was never really into this kind of music, but that’d be a great conversation to have: Why do you like them? Why do I not like them? It could be a way we can learn about each other.”

It’s the same piece of information, but it can be used for either honest or dishonest purposes. It all comes down to why you take a certain action, and what you expect the outcome to be.

And online marketing is exactly the same. There’s just so much trickery going on. When you say, “I think people will convert more because I have a blue button instead of a red button,” that’s trickery. People don’t find relevance in button colors. You should be showing different types of menswear. Not because you’re trying to trick me, but because it’s relevant to me.

The reality is, you don’t build a relationship on trickery. Marketers are always thinking about transactions and conversion rates. When you’re trying to fool people into a conversion, you’re kind of basing it on trickery. You can’t begin a relationship that way and hope it’ll end up being long term.

And it all ties back into what we do with the info we gather. We need to focus less on conversion rate trickery and more on customer relationship building. Data should always be used to develop better, deeper and more honest relationships. If you say, “I want to talk to you about what my brand offers and let you decide whether you and my brand are compatible,” that’s based on something honest. Think about what it is you’re doing, how it’s good for you—and most importantly, how is this good for this consumer?

In the long run, honesty is what builds lasting relationships. Trickery may lead to the occasional one-night stand, or the quick conversion, but the likelihood of a resulting meaningful relationship is pretty slim in both cases. And while the quick transactions can be fun, it’s the long-term relationships that can bring about genuine happiness—and some real profits.