Building Credibility in Marketing
I wish every software marketing statement — especially in CRM — was as good as what they used for toothpaste when I was a kid. Thanks to Madison Avenue and having only three networks on broadcast TV, I can almost repeat verbatim the tag line about Crest from memory. "Crest has been shown to be an effective decay preventative dentifrice when used in a program of oral hygiene and regular professional care."
What was so powerful, and true, about that statement was the acknowledgment that dental health involved a program, a series of interlocking steps that have the goal and end result of a healthy smile. Too often press releases for software companies sound like snake oil promotions in comparison. A few years ago, Al Reiss and his daughter Laura wrote "The Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR" and their thesis, as you can gather from the title, was that PR works best, in part because it builds credibility better.
Reaching the Reader
I am not sure that is strictly true that PR is better at building credibility or if it might just be that we have all grown too accustomed to filtering out advertising; if the latter, then we stand to hit the same wall with PR at some point in the future. I see signs that PR might be getting stale. For example, modern PR uses three primary devices to try to convince the reader to pay attention and buy something. If credibility is the goal, PR might be falling short.
First there’s market share, for example, "XYZ company, the leading supplier of wet blankets for left handed smoke signals…" It has been well documented that people like to buy from the market leader and that in many cases, they will even pay extra for the privilege, and hence every company tries to be first or the best at something when it comes to its positioning. There’s nothing wrong with that unless you are over-differentiating in a crowded market. Claiming leadership assures potential buyers that you are a safe choice, that lots of others have made the same decision and lived to tell about it. Nevertheless our incessant quest to be a leader makes for fragmented markets.
Then there’s the statistical claim that seems to show a desired improvement despite the fact that results are at best circumstantial. The other day a draft release crossed my desk in which a new company claimed its product could increase the number of leads per sales representative and as proof there was a quote from the VP of sales at a company beta testing the solution. There was no mention of the long standing relationship between the new company’s CEO and the beta tester. I am not saying the claim was false, just that it lacks rigor and the ability to be validated. The quote was certainly credible but the claim can’t be backed up.
But the favorite device that I see companies using is what I call, "We can do it all". It’s a variation on the old snake oil salesman’s shtick. Got a problem? The cure is in the bottle. Back ache? It’s in the bottle. Digestive trouble? It’s in there too. You get the idea.
Thinking It Through
One of the challenges that emerging companies face is turning a good idea into a product and often first versions are more or less put out with the hope that the market place will validate the use or figure out something novel. It happens all the time, early adopters take a half baked idea and further incubate it, playing around with the idea until it jells.
Taking a half-baked idea to market does not bother me, but I think there would be more success for innovators if they thought a bit more like toothpaste ad copywriters. The toothpaste guys never claim that their product does it all, or that lots of people use it, though they do like to show happy, pretty people using their products.
The strength of the toothpaste ad and the weakness of so much software marketing and PR is that the toothpaste ad integrates the product to a larger vision of a solution. I have not seen very many "system" products introduced lately. By system I mean CRM, ERP, SCM and the like. There are no new system products because most of the systems niches have been taken, at least for now. We’re in a process of back filling, improving by increments, which is all the more reason for vendors to position their new solutions within a larger context.
The Human Condition
A new product may very well be able to help sales representatives improve lead flow, but it will not likely do that on its own, so why pretend? It will work with specific marketing and sales strategies and solutions in specific markets where people buy a certain way. Nailing down that kind of specificity is not only good for the customer, it helps conserve valuable resources that emerging companies especially need to focus on their best prospects.
We’ve never stopped using the phrase, "Caveat emptor" and I don’t think it’s because everybody still studies Latin in high school. I think it has more to do with the universality of the idea and the human condition.