There’s a great paragraph in Gary Klein’s book, The Power of Intuition, that explains everything you need to know about the pitfalls of branding claims. It provides a two-part litmus test for substantive, credible claims — and even tells you how to quickly spot unsubstantiated claims that threaten to drain the credibility right out of your copy. Here it is:
“The defining feature of information is that it reduces uncertainty. If I say that I want our company to be profitable this year, that isn’t offering very much useful information. What else would I want? It only counts as information if there is a reasonable alternative position that I am rejecting. To say that ‘Customer satisfaction is my number-one priority’ is public relations, not information. If, however, I say that customer satisfaction needs to improve and that I would be willing to trade .5 percent of profits for an increase in satisfaction ratings of 10 percent, that would count as information. If I can’t tell you what costs I am willing to bear in order to achieve customer satisfaction, then I’m just blathering”
Based on Klein’s test, a claim is unsubstantiated (and unpersuasive) when it fails to…
A) reject a reasonable alternative position, and
B) show what costs the claim-maker is willing to bear in fulfilling the claim/promise.
The idea for this series, in case you’re wondering, came when I found this list of the most-popular gobbledygook claims used in Press Releases. So, I thought it would be fun to use that as a basis for this slightly different list of common, persuasion-killing claims found in Web copy:
Looking at Klein’s first requirement, I can’t think of any company on the planet that’s ever publicly claimed lousy customer service, or marketed their product as difficult-to-use and frustrating. But if done right, acknowledging the flip-side to some of these has the potential for marketing genius, a la Avis (a testament to the power of accentuating the negative).
Of course, none of these claims tells the reader what costs the claim-maker is willing to bear in order to fulfill them. And that, of course, means we’ve got a solid gold list of unsubstantiated blather — and a pretty clear roadmap on how to transform each claim into credible, persuasive copy.
For the next few weeks, I’ll work through each of these 7 claims. (This first one might be the most popular of all.)
Here’s the problem: Experiencing great customer service opens peoples’ mouths to spread the good word about a company. Hearing or reading unsubstantiated claims of great customer service, meanwhile, opens their mouths wide for a good yawn. (And I’m hardly unique in this way. As my colleague, Tim Miles, likes to say, “Don’t tell her you’re courteous. Open her door!“)
My first advice is to consider NOT re-working this claim, but simply dropping it altogether. Let your great customer service surprise and “wow” new customers, lest your solid service fail to live up to the “wow” hype.
But if you must claim “superior customer service,” the first step in making it believable is to make your online visitors’ experience as intuitive and pleasant as possible. Anticipate and meet visitors’ needs online, and they’ll more likely believe your intentions to do so offline.
The second step is to have a few Nordstram-type stories up your sleeve in order to capture the emotional essence of great customer service, allowing your website visitors to experience some of your “door opening” vicariously. Prospects who can picture your over-the-top service in their minds become customers who pay for that service in your stores.
The third step is to make the actual claim as tangible and specific as possible by…
Isn’t it amazing how real information sounds completely different than generic claims? While customers are rapidly becoming deaf to the blather, their ears remain tuned to the sounds of substance; tones worth using in Web copy.
[Editor's note: Has your site left visitors under-served? Sharpen up your virtual sales pitch at our Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar on March 28th in San Francisco. Jeff and Holly will be your instructors for this first-ever West Coast edition of our popular one-day copywriting crash course. Class size is limited so that attendees can get real advice and actually learn something. You'll even get $100 off if you register by 2/29.]