The Pitfalls of Marketing Hype
My husband and I were considering a new line of consumer nutritional products being marketed through a direct sales organization. We liked the products. We did a 3-day trial and saw impressive results. They made us more alert and energetic, so we were very interested. But we had questions about the product’s ingredients, safety and long-term efficacy, and about the company’s quality promise. These were not objections, they were genuine concerns that I wanted to get answered as we evaluated the product.
I was looking for concrete evidence to back up an emotional decision, because I didn’t trust my emotions to drive good decision-making.
I looked for details on the manufacturer’s website, but could not find sufficient information to allay my concerns. What I found instead was a great deal of promotional hype.
Hype Instead of Help
The website and the sales people make extensive claims about the product. But when I asked for evidence to back up the claims, they answered with more hype-filled claims. For example, I asked how they source ingredients – since with vitamins, sourcing ingredients that are not contaminated with pesticides or GMOs is pretty important. They answered “we source only the best quality ingredients.” That may be true, but without evidence to substantiate the claim, my confidence was not increased — it was damaged. If they could tell me HOW they determine that the ingredients are the best quality, I’d find the claim more believable.
I realize that the product sales people may not have full information about the sourcing strategy, but if the manufacturer is going to train the sales people to make the claim and include the claim in their marketing, they also need to provide the information to back it up.
In the Absence of Information, I Did My Own Research
Since all I could get was hype from the manufacturer website and the sales person, I resorted to Google to do my own research. I found plenty of social commentary both for and against the product. The commentary on the pro side continued the hype, while the con side looked at the ingredients and evaluated them on an individual basis. So I did the same. That analysis uncovered even more concerns, which I addressed with the sales person. She responded with more enthusiastic hype and personal testimonials. It’s not because she’s insincere. It’s because the manufacturer has not armed her with any other information. She believes in the product, but she can’t just invent the evidence I need.
Claims in the Absence of Evidence Erode Trust
What I found as I went through this evaluation process is that hype in the absence of evidence was actually damaging my trust in the brand. It’s a huge missed opportunity for the marketing department of this company. If they just provided a little bit of information to back up their claims, my confidence would increase. After all, I already liked the product…a lot.
This is an important reminder for us as marketers. Take a fresh look at all of your promotional and sales campaigns. You and your sales team are making claims about your products daily. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they true?
- Can you back up all your claims with evidence? Is it easy for prospects to find?
- Are you providing your sales people with the materials and information to back up the claims they’re making?
- Does your website address commonly asked questions and objections raised in the sales process?
This is an Easy Mistake to Make
A couple years ago, we made a similar mistake with a client video. We were creating a 2-minute explainer video to describe a very esoteric financial technology product. The first half was devoted to describing the problem, and the second half described the solution and benefits. As in many organizations, lots of contributors were involved in creating the script, and each stakeholder had something important they wanted to add in. We went through about 9 script revisions before we got to something everyone agreed upon.
When the video was finished, I ran it by a friend who ran the prime brokerage business for a large bank. (As is common in financial services, he can’t permit me to use his name or his company’s name, so I’ll use the pseudonym “Scott.”)
Scott is extremely knowledgeable about electronic trading technology. He’s a noted thought leader in the industry. Just as important, I can count on him to tell me the truth without sugar-coating.
After he reviewed the video, Scott told me that the problem statement in the first half really resonated for him. His words, “Wow! These guys really understand my problems.” He went on, “The lead-in is valid, but the end feels like a waste of my time. It gives the impression, ‘just buy this product, and all your problems are solved’.”
He said that the list of high level benefits came off as trite. It tried to imply authority, but it didn’t back up the claims. So it lost credibility. In the absence of evidence, he didn’t believe any of the claims.
I think the most important point was his closing suggestion. He’d rather see just 2 benefits backed up by solid evidence instead of 10 (he just guessed at the number of benefits, but when I looked back at the script to specifically count, I could find roughly 8-9 benefits…absurd for a 2-minute video). In the end, we had tried to tell the whole story of the product in 2 minutes. We tried to “pack 20 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound bag,” and it backfired.
What I’ve Learned From These Examples
I appreciated Scott’s honesty and clear assessment of that video more than he can imagine. As I recently told him, I bring up his comments in nearly every sales call, as a way to set the stage when I explain how we approach content strategy. I also think back on his comments every time we draft a new video script or put together fresh content for a client. I ask myself, are we packing in too many benefits? Are we making claims that lack credibility? Do our benefits have supporting evidence? Is the evidence believable?
Now, I’ve got this new example from the vitamin company to give me a very personal experience of why emotionally charged hype won’t work…at least not with the buyers we target.
In a B2C sale, the hype might move some customers to buy (it clearly works for some). But in a financial technology sale with more than 2-3 buying committee members, you’re likely to be selling to at least 1 or 2 people like me — or more likely — people like Scott. So be prepared to appeal not just to emotion, but also to logic.
PS: After publishing, I came across this great article by Jay Baer about how to create a great customer experience. Transparency and information is key to building trust.