Friday, March 12, 2010

Make A Promise You Can Actually Keep

There is an unending debate among marketers about whether it is better to offer the customer everything, (even if what you offer them isn’t necessarily the best), or only one particular thing that is outstanding.


Obviously there are good reasons to choose one or the other, depending on the company and the context, and this is not about taking sides on the issue.


The point is that whether you offer the customer everything or just one thing, or something in between, it is critical to set their expectations appropriately.


Appropriate expectations are so important to marketing that I am going to put this advice in bold, all caps:




Now, is this advice generally followed by marketers? No! Of course not! Which is why marketing as a profession has such a bad name, and why most of us take all advertising and marketing claims with a huge claim of salt.


I remember the lawsuit over Papa John’s tagline, “Better Ingredients – Better Pizza.” Pizza Hut filed it; Papa Johns’ eventually won because “jurors were never asked if consumers relied on Papa John's "better" claims when deciding what pizza to buy”.


I am a consumer, and when I heard the tagline I did take it literally.


So to me, even if Papa John’s won the battle in court, in my mind they lost the battle of brand logic. Not only does the line falsely raise expectations among consumers, but it also shows that their corporate culture supports a certain level of deceit as a means of roping the customer in. In the end, their actual products don’t make a difference – because they have damaged their credibility with a tagline that promises something, and also says “wink wink, you ought to know that we’re not really promising this.”


Sort of like when you go to Vegas…are you really thinking you will emerge a millionaire?


Why do so many marketers make the mistake of raising customers’ expectations unrealistically? Well, it’s pretty obvious – they want to win market share. What isn’t clear is why, if they are logical people investing an incredible amount of money in advertising (often), they figure that making shallow claims will result in customer loyalty over the long term.


Looking at this carefully, the only thing I can conclude is that they don’t!


 When marketers engage in this kind of behavior - loudly but misleadingly proclaiming their products and services to be something they are not – essentially one of two (or perhaps both) things are happening.


  • They are trying to boost first-time customers, website traffic, or what have you – to win big in the short-term. (Think about it: how long does the marketing firm, or the internal marketing employee, expect their relationship with the client to run? Or from the executive side – are they judged more on 5-year results or 6-month results?)


  • The marketer and the client are subconsciously colluding (sounds kind of horrible, but it’s a natural tendency I think) to reinforce the client’s ego about his or her product and not to deal with the reality of what it can and can’t realistically offer the customer.


Marketers ought to be careful not to fall into the traps above themselves and must have the strength of character to resist any attempts to rope them in. Because it is not only ethical to tell customers the truth (American Marketing Association Code of Ethics: “Participants in the marketing exchange process should be able to expect that…Communications about offered products and services are not deceptive”), it is also good business to do so. (As they used to say at my former brand consultancy, The Brand Consultancy in Washington, D.C., “The promise you make is the promise that you must keep.”)


Ultimately, if you have a good product or service, you can indeed win and keep customers on that basis – especially since there are so many others making inflated claims.


Posted via email from Think Brand First