The TV series Mad Men does a great job of capturing the golden era of advertising. History books characterize the 60s as a time when consumers eagerly devoured every claim an advertiser served up. Ahh... those were the good old days for marketers.
Today marketing is a lot more challenging. What's changed? You have! Consumers understand that many (if not most) of the advertising claims are embellished, exaggerated or just plain untrue. This consumer skepticism has changed the face of good marketing.
With that as background, I was clicking through the website of one of our largest competitors when I was struck that I was looking at classic 1960s-style advertising. While not bias free, I'll give a friendly poke and prod to my competitor and try to offer my best advice to anyone who wants to advertise in the 21st century.
The website reads, "Simply stated, we provide the customer with the absolute best service possible." Wow, that's a strong statement for an electronics distributor. Using both a bold and italicized font to make this claim, the website put this sentence below the headline proclaiming its unique business philosophy.
Could it be true that they deliver the "absolute best service possible?" Engineers and anyone with a scientific mind might argue that there is nothing "absolute" about something as subjective as the "best service possible," but this suggests that one couldn't even imagine better service. I allow my imagination to wander and wonder if the CEO himself delivers every package, or at least calls every customer to make sure they were happy with their order.
Frankly I don't expect any of that, but when a company makes a claim this bold, they need to back it up with proof. Let's read on to see how this competitor supports its claim.
The first supporting proof point reads, "We have no outside sales force." Ok, but how does that benefit the customer or prove the point? A bit further down the list they claim, "Our marketing program is among the largest in the industry." Again, this is very impressive, but hardly a proof point. In fact doesn't this make the cost of goods more expensive?
To be fair, other bullets talk about their fill rate, the speed of shipping and the "leading edge" technology, but nothing to my eye that establishes the company as particularly "unique" or delivering the "absolute best."
But wait, there's more... The website states the company has a "...unique vision of the future of distribution and the courage to act on that vision..." Another "Wow" from me and yet I can't find anything to support this claim.
Customers in the 21st century are clearly jaded by unsupported advertising claims. Here are some simple guidelines on how to talk to customers.
- Under promise and over deliver. When a company exceeds a customer's expectations they are thrilled and they might even tell someone about what a great company you have. By contrast, if a company sets expectations too high then it's virtually impossible to exceed the customer's expectations and leaves them open for disappointment.
- Build trust. Establish your credibility with customers by talking to them like you would to a friend. If you make a claim, then support it. Don't try to be something to everyone. Be willing to admit your imperfections but present a balanced self-view of the value you will add.
- Be Real. Few of us will have true relationships with corporate entities, but most of us will loyally purchase from a friend. Companies need a personality that mirrors someone people might like. None of us wants to be friends with a person who brags about how amazing they are and thus that's not the best approach toward building customer relationships.
Another good marketing technique is to proactively address any unspoken questions customers might have. At this point I suspect that at least one of you is thinking, "Ok, Mr. Hot Shot Marketer, does Jameco practice what it preaches?" And the answer is that we try to, but of course we aren't perfect. Let me try to prove my point.
Jameco claims to have a "solid reputation for great prices." We say this because we aggressively price our products underneath our major competitors. But we make mistakes too and prices are changing all the time. That's why we offer a low price guarantee to ensure that our customers help keep us honest. It would have been easy to just say "we have the best prices" which more times than not would be true, but all it takes is one mistake or sale product to make us untrustworthy in our customers' minds.
We also claim to offer better service than our competitors (sound familiar?), but unlike the example above, we offer a proof point to try to back this up. We give every customer direct access to our executive team through an e-mail address (Management@Jameco.com) that promises a prompt reply from the company's executive staff who really care and are in a position to get problems fixed quickly without the normal bureaucracy. We go on to explain that this e-mail address is not managed by a low-level employee, but really managed by the executive team.
Do you have any electronics industry advertising examples (great or horrible) that you would like to share? I would love to get your perspective on our quest to get your attention and win your loyalty.