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Misinformation in Directories as a Sales Tactic


Misinformation in Directories as a Sales Tactic

The Starbucks Trick

There is an urban myth about an ingenious marketing scheme Starbucks supposedly uses. The myth starts with a barista purposely misspelling your name. The idea behind this is that the customer, seeing the misspelling, will post a photo of their drink on Facebook. Friends & family who saw the misspelling would like, laugh, love (pick your favorite emoticon) the photo. Boom. Like magic, everyone in your Facebook network who saw the photo is then thinking about Starbucks. 

I’ve been victim to this plenty of times, below is a photo of the latest example. I posted this to Facebook too. Why not? It’s kind of funny. This Starbucks trick, whether true or not, can teach us an interesting lesson about misinformation. If there is a factual dispute about information people care about, we can predict a reaction.

Starbucks Drink

My name is “Craig”.

Cue Evil Laughter…

I was doing directory work for an electrician in Colorado Springs. To be candid—I’m not the biggest fan of directory work. It’s tedious. I badly wish I could have an intern or Account Manager do it, but the truth is it’s important. The reason it’s important—Google Maps relies on NAP*/category information from certain directories. It also looks at keywords within reviews on and, in this meta of the algorithm, will positively rank you for it.

It’s important.

*NAP stands for name, address, and phone number.

I found an incorrect listing for the electrician in Home Adviser—the information was 100% incorrect. It was so bad I thought at first it had to be spam. The name was misspelled, the address listed was incorrect, and the phone number didn’t exist.


The name of the business on the listing was (as shown above) WN LLC.


I called the company to edit it. I was immediately forwarded to a salesman. I started chatting with him about the listing. I explained that I wanted to update the information; he was happy to help. He first asked me if I wanted to purchase advertising on the site. I let him know I was only interested in updating the information. Before he transferred me, we had an exchange:

Salesman: “You know why we do that right? Post the incorrect information?”

Me: “No, why?”

S: “To get you to call us… MUAHAHAHAHA” (I added the evil laughter).


Cunningham’s Law

That exchange kind of blew my mind. He’s right, a directory sometimes has more incentive to post incorrect information than correct information. I wouldn’t have called him otherwise. He wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to sell me. It’s kind of clever right? Amoral, but definitely clever.

Regardless of opinion, both Starbucks & Home Advisor both understand something—Cunningham’s Law.

Cunningham’s Law states that in order to get the correct answer online, don’t ask the question, post the wrong answer. In other words, people don’t necessarily like helping other people as much as they like being the smartest person in the room. It doesn’t matter if someone misspelled a name wrong on a cup or put incorrect information in a directory.

You post the wrong information, there is going to be a follow-up.

Cunningham's Law

Cunningham’s Law

I sat on this information for a while and didn’t think about it much until I saw a conversation on Local Search Pros about another directory doing this exact same thing. Only this time, someone mentioned he had to schedule an appointment to update the information first.

There was a brief exchange, and another member of the forum laid it out:

“Ok, so creating NAP confusion by publishing loads of stale data in their directory is just a leadgen strategy to cull rep management prospects? I take it the monthly fee for a “fix” of inaccuracy is just the tripwire for their review mgmt & filtering service upsell. This targets people like us that care/know about citations and reviews enough to put the effort into correcting it by reaching out to them and even taking an appointment to hear the pitch.”

Everyone is trying to get in on the business information game these days. Consumers want information (especially reviews). Information is the reason Home Advisor is combining w/ Angies’ List; Facebook has released an app dedicated specifically to local; and even pushed SnapChat into releasing “Context Cards”. Everyone is on board with the idea of leveraging information in a meaningful way.

The dark side of this— for small businesses that could mean these companies are leveraging misinformation in a meaningful way. As directories realize the power they hold, they are going to try to make money off that power. After all, they have no obligation to the business.

In the case of the electrician, Home Advisor’s terms & conditions state very clearly—it owns their information on its website.


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