“I want to be very clear about what we can do for you. We can take you on a hike. We cannot turn you into someone who likes hiking. We can take you to the Italian Riviera. We cannot make you feel comfortable in a bathing suit. We can provide the zip line. We cannot give you the ability to say ‘whee!’ and mean it." — Joe Romano, Romano Tours
The above quote is from a TV ad for a tour company. OK, to be more specific, it’s a spoof of an ad starring Adam Sandler on "Saturday Night Live."
But in humor there is truth. So let’s explore the essential marketing lesson this skit teaches.
You Are 2 People
You’re a marketer. And a customer. When making your marketing claims, it’s always essential to remember that.
The marketer’s blind spot is that he or she can naturally make claims or approve headlines that he or she would never believe as a customer. When you end up in a meeting room with your agencies, consultancies, and co-workers, it’s very easy to get caught up in outlandish, over-the-top, or hype-filled marketing — and very hard to break that group dynamic and ask, “Wait a minute, what will customers think? As a customer, I would never believe that.”
What is gold in the boardroom can be blood in the streets, if the ad runs and the skeptical consumer doesn’t buy in.
There’s a more insidious challenge, as well, that your self-interest as a marketer can blind you to. Often, the brand just makes a claim that isn’t overtly hype-filled, but it isn’t backed up with any serious credibility, either.
For example, I was recently helping to lead a "Quick Win Intensive," when it came up that a credible third-party organization had determined this company’s product was easier to use than the competitors’ — with some very specific numbers.
I had read those numbers on the company’s homepage before, but I thought the company just made them up. There was no source for them. I was genuinely surprised that it had such credible backing behind it, and made me see the product in a new light.
While a piece of information may be true, it’s all in how you communicate it. The customer can’t possibly peer beyond the homepage to see the inner workings of your company. Perception is reality, and without clear credibility on the homepage, the customer is less likely to believe the information. It’s the marketer's job to surface the hidden value the company is creating in a way that the customer will understand and believe.
So take off that marketing hat from time to time and think like a customer. They are simply barraged by marketing claims. If it’s outlandish, or the validity of the statement is questionable, they will doubt it and your product.
And that’s one reason why the "Saturday Night Live" ad is so funny. We’ve all been exposed to so many claims that we didn’t believe, we think they all can’t possibly be true.
The Right Claim to the Right Person
Most legitimate marketers aren’t making blatantly untrue promises to potential customers. However, it’s all too easy to make the right claim to the wrong person.
At MECLABS Institute, an effective value proposition is the answer to the question, “If I am your ideal customer, why should I buy from you rather than any of your competitors?” And when we conduct a "Value Proposition Workshop," an important step when answering that question is defining who exactly the ideal customer is.
By identifying the ideal customer, you’re able to craft a more powerful value proposition, because you don’t have to make something broadly (and blandly) appealing to entice people who your product can’t serve well.
For example, I drive one of the early mass-market electric cars — a Nissan LEAF. It was advertised as having a 73-mile range. If I did a lot of highway driving to other cities and didn’t have another car in my household, I would not have been an ideal customer for this car. But by focusing intensely on the ideal customer, Nissan could have advertised an accurate and honest value proposition that would result in well-served customers, like:
“Zero emissions. Minimal maintenance. And never buy gas again. Nissan LEAF is the ultimate commuter car.”
As Flint McGlaughlin said in his seminal work, "Transparent Marketing," almost two decades ago:
“Tell me what you can’t do, and I might believe you when you tell me what you can do.”
After watching the SNL ad, I wanted to go on a tour with Romano Tours (if it were real). If the guy is that much of a straight shooter — telling customers what he can’t do — it made me really believe the ad.
Here’s an example of how a real company follows this principle. Marcus Sheridan, before he became The Sales Lion, was the co-owner of River Pools and Spas. In fact, he learned a lot of what he teaches by doing it first as a business owner.
He transparently shared some of the downsides of his product. He sold fiberglass pools, and yet he would create content like, “Top 5 Fiberglass Pool Problems and Solutions” and “Fiberglass Pools vs. Vinyl Liner Pools vs. Concrete Pools: An Honest Comparison,” which includes a list of cons for fiberglass pools.
The upside, this approach helped his company rank highly for pool comparison keywords (like, “fiberglass pools vs. concrete”) and these keywords generated the second-most leads of any keywords (second only to branded keywords).
These weren’t just any leads. These were highly qualified leads. After all, River Pools just told consumers why some people would be better served by another type of pool, and yet they were still interested in fiberglass pools.
Not only are your claims more believable when you tell customers who you can and can’t serve, but you get leads who are more qualified, as well.
And more satisfied customers, too ...
Word-of-Mouth and Customer Lifetime Value
It’s easy to overlook, but the setup for the joke in the SNL skit was that Romano Tours was getting some bad customer reviews.
This is a risk, if you don’t make the right promise to the right customer. Again, it’s not that the product is bad, per se. It’s that someone who isn’t the ideal customer is trying to implement a use case that the product just wasn’t built for.
Going back to my Nissan LEAF example, if I had bought the car and expected to do a lot of long-distance driving with it, I would have thought it was a horrible car. It just wasn’t built for that.
Unsatisfied customers produce negative word-of-mouth on review sites, social media, and in person, and when you spend money to acquire a customer who isn’t the right fit for your product, they are unlikely to purchase again — hurting customer lifetime value.
And it’s a lot easier to alienate a customer with a marketing promise than it is to please them, according to our data. MarketingSherpa split a representative sample of 2,400 U.S. customers into two groups. We asked one group of 1,200 about a specific company they were satisfied with and the other group of 1,200 about a specific company with which they were unsatisfied. And then we asked them, “How well do the products/services of [company name] do their intended job?”
Essentially, we were asking customers if the product lived up to the marketing promise. The most surprising thing when you see the chart is how uneven the responses are. On a five-point scale “very poorly” to “very well,” the plurality of responses for satisfied customers was a 5 (“very well”), chosen by 49%.
If the groups mirrored themselves, you would then expect to lose a plurality of unsatisfied customers with a 1 (“very poorly”). But the most common response for unsatisfied customers was actually a 3 (“fairly”), chosen by 35%.
So you have to do “very well” in living up to the marketing promise to win most satisfied customers, but you’ll start losing most customers even if you do it “fairly” well.
Which shows just how important it is to find and serve an ideal customer, and be clear with your value proposition and marketing messages about who your product serves well — and who it doesn’t. Because when you try to make your product everything to everyone, you end up with nothing special at all.
Daniel Burstein is the Senior Director, Content and Marketing at MECLABS Institute. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the marketing direction for MECLABS — digging for actionable discoveries while serving as an advocate for the audience.