A recent USA Today Snapshots noted, some 70% of self-marketers admit to doing some "fabricating" with their countless unsupportable claims as they do their best to "sell" their product. This, of course, doesn't take into account the desperately doctored job applications, resumes and college applications, but it does include at least a few U.S presidents and a rather long list of Members of Congress.
The Internet gives us opportunities ad nauseum to "tell stories" with marketing. However, this is neither a defect nor the downfall of truth telling. Happily, there are millions of people who are constantly setting the records straight, which is why Wikipedia and tens of thousands of reviews work so well. Fraud detectors are always at work! The only ones who are deceived by making unsupported claims are those who make them.
All of which is to say that no one marketing a product or service should deceive themselves into believing that what they're doing is the exception to the rule. Believe it or not, marketing today must past the truth test.
So, here's the test. It's a simple way to see if your marketing passes muster.
1. Why would customers want to buy what you're selling? Believe it or not, this is a serious question, although many marketers might consider it totally irrelevant. Does what you're marketing solve perceived problems for customers or trumped up ones? Can they count on it to deliver on your promises?
"How does it help me?" is a significant question. Take the issue of national brands versus store brands at the supermarket and other places. In the past, consumers opted for the "leading national brands," until the recession hit. And quite suddenly, store brands were getting much more shelf space, as consumers gave serious attention to the cost question.
2. Are you telling the truth? It may seem strange to align marketing with truth, since they appear to be such strange bedfellows. As easy as it is to be cynical, consider this: On the day that Steve Jobs announced the Apple iPad, before more than a handful of people had one in their hands, he boldly stated that it was "a truly magical and revolutionary product." Then he went on to say, "What this device does is extraordinary. It is the best browsing experience you've ever had. It's unbelievably great ... way better than a laptop. Way better than a smartphone."
Wow! So many over the top claims in so few words! But they were not hyperbole in the case of Steve Jobs and the iPad. If anyone else had tried it, they would have failed. He wasn't laughed off the stage for one reason: he had a proven track record of delivering on his promises, of telling the truth. Instead of being booed, he was applauded.
The truth works. Unfortunately, most marketers haven't that learned lesson.
3. Is the marketing message sufficiently compelling to move prospects to action? Or, to put it another way, robust offers work, while wimpish ones don't. A case study in BtoB, the marketing publication, describes an AT&T campaign directed to a group of 75 top executives of leading hotels. Based on the J.D. Power and Associates finding that WiFi is the most valued amenity travelers want to know about before checking in. AT&T picked up on that fast and wanted to make sure the executives knew about it and that the company had solutions for them.
Ironically, AT&T decided on a direct mail campaign, with the goal of getting meetings with AT&T sales reps. Recognizing that high level executives are well insulated from invasive attempts, they took a "you've got to see this" approach. The first mailing was an attention-getting package with an actual Wi-Fi locator device inside with this message: "Locating Wi-Fi at [name of hotel chain]." Sales reps made follow up calls to verify that the package had arrived and to ask for a meeting.
The second mailing went to those who did not respond. It was "a custom dimensional piece consisting of a cardboard mockup of a netbook-like computer," reported BtoB. Rather than a screen, it sported a video-in-print technology that played a two-minute video personalized for each hotel chain.
Next day delivery upped the ante even more by requiring the signature of the recipient. Again, the sales team followed up using several ways to contact the prospects. It was a powerful combined effort between marketing and sales.
Those making the commitment to meet with the sales reps received a special thank you, a real netbook computer.
Based on the traditional 2% response rate for direct mail, AT&T reached 9%, based on face-to-face sales meetings.
4. How do our products or services stand up to those of the competition? The marketing objective is not to out do the competition, even though that's quite common; rather, the goal is to out think the competitors. The tendency is to pile on the bells and whistles, even though no one has a clue how to use them and wouldn't even if they knew how. Whether less is more is debatable, but many times less best meets the customer's needs.
With these four questions, you can put your marketing to the test. If it passes, congratulations. But if your marketing leaves something to be desired, this is a good time to get to work.
John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business, marketing and sales issues. Contact: 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170; 617-328-0069; firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: grahamcomm.com.