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Over Promise: A Great Way to Destroy Your Credibilty

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

In his autobiography, Mark Twain attributes this sentiment to Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th century British Prime Minister. Nevertheless, the notion certainly isn’t relegated to the 19th century. Sales pitches, press releases, and new product announcements are sometimes great examples of this today.

Most small business owners, marketing executives and PR professionals want to couch the story of their company and their products in the best light possible. I think that’s only natural. But sometimes that results in an overzealous and misguided urge to “spin up” the story to make it more exciting or appear bigger than it really is. I’m not going to mention his name because I don’t want to embarrass him, but a few years back I worked with a CMO who would read every press release or customer case study and say, “Spin it up. This isn’t a big enough story.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of putting your best foot forward—I’m just not a fan of hyperbole or lies. And yes, I said lies. Over the course of my career I’ve heard otherwise honest sales and marketing professionals make excuses and justifications for lying more times than I care to count. Fortunately, those careers are often cut short because setting unrealistic expectations with outlandish claims seldom results in happy customers and is often expensive for a small business owner—including when he or she is the one “spinning up” a claim to the point of misrepresenting what their product does.

Most of us grew up hearing, “Honesty is the best policy.”

In a world where faulty products or overstated claims can, and regularly are, exposed to the world online, personal and corporate credibility is really important to a Main Street business and its owner—any business for that matter. When sales people resist the urge to overstate what their product or service does to close the sale today, they are better able to create long-term relationships rather than unhappy or complaining customers. When PR professionals avoid the temptation to “spin up” a convoluted story filled with lies, damned lies, and statistics, people actually take notice, the press becomes interested, and companies gain traction within the market.

Every single guy or gal knows that nobody looks as good, is as successful, or loves walking down the beach holding hands as much as far too many online dating profiles claim. What’s more, in marketing, just like online dating, there is a point where the truth comes to light and the possibility of major disappointment just can’t be avoided.

Here are three suggestions to salespeople, marketers, and PR pros to help them remain credible in a world that over promises:

  1. If you have to stretch the truth to close the sale, don’t close the sale: This is a hard one for many sales pros who rely on commissions and have quotas to meet. P.T. Barnum claimed there was a sucker born every minute. He may have been right, but he didn’t have to deal with online review sites and social media that made it possible for unhappy customers to potentially call “pants on fire” to tens of thousands (if not millions) of potential customers. If you have to lie to make it happen, don’t do it.
  2. “Spin it up” doesn’t belong in anyone’s vocabulary: If you have to artificially inflate claims to make them interesting or newsworthy, they are likely neither interesting nor newsworthy. This is a bitter pill to take for business owners and PR professionals who are trying to share good news about their company or their products. To most of the people out there who might see your press announcement or release, your “news” isn’t really news—even if you spin it up. Those that are interested in your announcement are not interested in misleading claims or bogus statistics.
  3. If you don’t stand behind a claim 100 percent, don’t make the claim: I remember as a kid begging my parents for a pair of PF Flyers because they would help me run faster and jump higher. They may have had research into the technology they used in the soles of their shoes that they thought proved a kid with PF Flyers could run faster and jump higher, but 40+ years after I got my pair I have to admit that I could do neither—I don’t think it was just me. I remember being disappointed in my Flyers. When it was time for my next pair and my mom suggested a pair of Keds, I didn’t argue. I’m sure their unsubstantiated marketing pitch suckered a lot of us nine or ten-year-olds.

When you or your team over promise, you lose credibility. Your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what you are. An accurate description of your product or service is the best way to gain customers who will not only patronize your business once—they’ll come back again and again.

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About the Author

  • Ty Kiisel

Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon. Ty writes about small business financing and other best practices for Lendio, in addition to sharing his passion for small business every week on Forbes.com. He's also the author of the book, Getting a Business Loan: Financing Your Main Street Business.

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