Disarming Honesty is the
Best Marketing Policy

Article by Steve Brewer

Which message on a cereal box sounds more convincing?
Cereal Box A - "Tasty Os Cereal contains 100% of the vitamins and minerals kids need."
Cereal Box B - "Tasty Os Cereal contains almost all of the vitamins and minerals kids need."

For most people, Box B is more believable and therefore more effective. Box A sounds too good to be true, even if it is accurate.

Box B is better because it uses one of the most overlooked marketing techniques - disarming honesty. By being as honest as possible in your marketing without going overboard, you can sound more believable and portray your business as a different kind of company.

Why Prospects Don’t Believe What You Say
Did you ever order something through the mail as a child? The toy you ordered looked great in the advertisement. When the real thing came, it almost always was smaller, cheaper, and a lot less fun than you expected. You learned not to believe everything you read in an ad.

Kids grow into adults understanding that marketing is full of hyperbole. As a result, consumers instinctively believe that most marketing messages are exaggerated.

Marketers make the problem worse by claiming their products are the solution to every problem. We make claims that sound so great they are not believable, even when they might be true. As a result, we create marketing messages that are dismissed or ignored.


Disarming Honesty

If you are more honest than consumers expect, you are disarming those consumers’ built-in disbelief. If their defense mechanisms are disarmed, consumers may be more willing to listen to what you have to say. They may regard the rest of your message with a bit more interest than usual.

For years, Diet Coke was promoted with the message that it had just one calorie. In fact, the calorie count was closer to zero than one, and Coca-Cola could have legally promoted it as having no calories at all. However, consumers in test marketing just didn’t believe that it had no calories. It sounded too good to be true.

Instead, Diet Coke was promoted as having "just one calorie" because this seemed more believable.

Here are some examples of traditional messages vs. disarmingly honest messages:

Traditional - Our software product handles all accounting needs for all types of businesses.
Disarmingly Honest - Our software product handles accounting very well for law firms.
Traditional - A Tasty Taco tastes great and has no fat.
Disarmingly Honest - A Tasty Taco tastes great, and has just a little fat - only two grams.
Traditional - Every customer has been 100% satisfied with our products.
Disarmingly Honest - 98% of customers have rated our products as "very satisfactory."

Are you starting to get the idea? Being disarmingly honest doesn’t mean offering up your product’s flaws. It simply means toning down the hyperbole and focusing on situations where your product works well.

Targeting is Required
Being disarmingly honest requires that you are selective in the prospects you reach because you are limiting the claims you make. Let’s go back to the accounting software example. Let’s say you have found that law firms are your best customers; they consistently give your product high satisfaction rankings and recommend it. Customers in other industries, meanwhile, are moderately satisfied with your software and rank it about the same as competing products.

If you advertise in a general interest publication like Time magazine, you won’t want to limit your message. As a result, you will probably say something such as "Our software meets the accounting needs of companies in all types of industries."

If you advertise in a publication targeted to law firms, your message could be "Our software works particularly well for law firms, and has been recommended by over 50 different law firms."

Which sounds more convincing? The ad targeting law firm limits the claims you are making about your product, which makes those claims more believable.

Don’t Go Too Far
Like a rich dessert, too much disarming honesty can be a bad thing. You don’t have to point out your weaknesses. The software company in our example would not be expected to proclaim, "Our software works well for law firms, but it sure does not work for retail stores. If you are a retailer, watch out!"
The First Step
Being disarmingly honest helps you avoid sounding like a glib sales person. By admitting your product is not the perfect solution for everyone, you increase the chances that the right prospects will listen.

However, that does not mean you’ll get the sale every time. It’s just the first step, increasing the chances the prospect will listen to more of your message. You still have to have a good product and the right message, and you must be communicating with the right prospect.


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Steve Brewer is the owner of Eureka Marketing Services. He can be reached at 952-417-9594 or:
Email: sbrewer@eureka-marketing.com.
View his web site at: www.eureka-marketing.com

Want to use this article? Copyright 2001 Steve Brewer. All rights reserved. This article may be used only for personal use. To reproduce this article in any way, you must obtain permission by contacting Steve Brewer. He can be reached at 952-417-9594 or by email at: sbrewer@eureka-marketing.com.


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