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Monday, Oct. 5, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Beware of Copycat Credibility

By Brendan Regan
October 5th, 2009

Money Back Guarantee Icon SetI saw something today that disturbed me a bit (see pic). What you see is a free icon set I found with the standard 30, 60 and 90-Day Money Back Guarantee emblazoned in gold. I’ve been seeing similar graphics on websites more and more lately.  We’re partly at fault because FutureNow helps businesses of all sizes by recommending design elements like these be put on their “to-do list.”

The disturbing thought is that if this style of “starburst” guarantee seal has become so popular that there are free, downloadable icon sets out there, isn’t that beginning to hurt their credibility?  If everyone’s assurances are copycats, can a devastating loss of credibility be far behind? When something becomes a commodity, it loses value.

I don’t fault the designer, who was simply satisfying a perceived demand and trying to promote themselves and make a living.  But, I think we’re hurting ourselves as digital marketers when we settle for the same old generic approach.

When it comes to security, consumers do want to see the same badges across the Net; think Verisign, McAfee, and Digicert.  But, when it comes to business guarantees, I believe seeing the same badges across the Net will hurt credibility over time; it almost has to work that way.

So how do we fix this and make sure consumers find us credible over the long haul?

  1. Demand more of your design/er – Let your creative resources be creative.  Ask for custom assurance graphics that reflect your overall site design, brand, and voice.  Better yet, ask them to be creative over and over again, and test your way to the winner.
  2. Substantiate the claim – Make whatever visual element you come up with link to more information.  One of our clients has a guarantee linked to a popup window with simple (yet specific) content written in plain language explaining what they guarantee, how to get your money back, and how they are willing to bank on your satisfaction. In other words, put some skin in the game.
  3. Avoid the “Set it and forget it” mentality – Last year’s assurances are this year’s BS, and will likely be even less effective next year.  The competitive landscape is always changing, and consumers get savvier and more skeptical every day. Just another reason to Always Be Testing.

Aside from my example, I’ve not seen much creativity in this area of web design.  Does anyone have examples they’d like to share of great, custom guarantee graphics? We promise not to copycat you ;)

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Comments (41)

  1. I think what has become commoditized is the guarantees themselves – not simply the icons. But you’re right, if everyone has the same guarantee, its effectiveness as a signal of credibility is diluted. The same can be said for testimonials, customers reviews, etc. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t have those things on your site. One must think like Shoeline.com and figure out how to up the ante. Recall, Shoeline.com revealed the return rates of their products, which increased sales by 26%. The company stood out and gained credibility because it revealed what no competitor was willing to reveal.

  2. Great point, Tom. You grok it! :)

  3. Got a URL for the 60 Day guarantee image somewhere on the web? I want to go look at it.

    thanks.

  4. copycatting is my biggest fear atm

  5. That is pretty bad . Being a web develop myself it hurts me to see such icon set being found on the internet for free . Internet is just becoming more and more filled with such pirated products .. music , movies , games and so on . Each and Every industry is loosing billions of dollars each year because this . I have written a similar article on my blog http://carpendium.com – check it out if you want ( might have to search for it though ) .

  6. great article, copycat was my biggest fear ever :)

  7. Suneedth, just because its free doesn’t always mean there’s been a copyright infringement. The net’s a massive resource and in many cases what you had to pay for a couple of years ago is being given away today. Open source code and design elements are everywhere. The trick as a user is to not cheapen your offering by overuse of generic design elements. Now back to work on my new restaurant project, McDougalls.com…anyone know where I can get a golden arch logo from?

  8. Being a web develop myself it hurts me to see such icon set being found on the internet for free . Internet is just becoming more and more filled with such pirated products .. music , movies , games and so on. Thanks for a good stuff.

  9. Yeah, I agree that once it’s everywhere it looses value. And if it’s cheap or free in will be everywhere.

  10. agree, I would rather not use that,
    It makes me feel theres something wrong when I see it on a site

  11. “The trick as a user is to not cheapen your offering by overuse of generic design elements” very well said

  12. Online fraud is definitely on the rise lately. Anyone can create a website, newsletter or emails by lifting logos and graphics of a legit business. These counterfeit sites can do serious brand and reputation damage. Most customers do not care it is not your site, they are angry your logos were used and lifted.

  13. very interesting, I agree. I hate it when I get copied or my content is scraped after all the hard work ive put in to create it.

  14. Thanks for all the great informtion.

  15. The symbol itself says cheesy and cheap. I hope everyone starts using them.

  16. The leaders have to differentiate themselves – eg like Tom’s example.

    One client is now spelling out exactly what her guarantee means for the customer.

    She does CVs and each one is customised for her client (obviously) and also for job the client wants.

    Many of her rivals mention a guarantee but when you look closely it’s vague or useless.

    She is majoring on her guarantee being a real benefit for her clients.

  17. It does kind of assume that the buttons have credibility in the first place, but certainly any attempt to affirm positive consumer protections have to be welcome, even if generic logos are used.

    Perhaps if there was a company that would vet the use of such icons?

  18. You are 100% correct, especially that many make the mistake of the “set if and forget it”. Things have to change. No matter how wonderful something looks today, it can’t remain that way forever. Change is inevitable, so that people don’t get bored. Thanks again, for another insightful piece!

  19. Interesting and very useful information! Thx for sharing.

  20. Thanks for pointing this out. I’m sure there are quite a few people out there that would not be able to spot the difference.

  21. you can even make your own “guaranteed” logos so I never trust pictures like that

  22. With the question being posed of people to share customized guarantee graphics, doesn’t that just open up the can of worms again and start a cycle all over again? 3rd party verifications are the only really secure option for consumers who know what they are looking for.

  23. I think copying is sometimes a necessary survival strategy in Marketing in order to maintain market share, at least on the short run, giving you enough time to come up with your own innovations.

  24. I am scared of the copycating also and am wondering something here i onw a site also it there in my comment so u can check what am talking about.Mainly what i am affraid of is that there is alot of articles for example on security so if i wrote something that is simmilar to someones text without even knowing that his article exist is that concidered copycating since we were writeing on simmilar articles on same subject?

  25. @Ado: the issues of copying content (as opposed to design elements), or of similar content, is much trickier.

    With the amount of web content being written every day, it’s highly possible you’d write something similar without being aware of the original. That’s bound to happen.

    Credibility is determined by how you respond if you discover that you’ve accidentally copied, or are notified by the earlier author.

    I think if you acknowledge the earlier content with a link, or a note, or work something out with the earlier author, you’re fine.

  26. copycatting is my biggest fear atm

  27. Well that is not a problem.If original author contact me or i discover myself i would check if he wrote it and posted before me and if he is i would remodify mine or remove it fully if its to simmilar that cannot be remoded

  28. This is a dangerous trend as well as the trend of companies making up fake awards and fake “consumer protection” seals. They basically are making themselves seem legit when they are not. I also just recently read about a company that had FDA approved seals on their website when they were not approved at all. You would think there would be a better way to have universal verifications.

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  30. Great article, as a designer I’ve been fighting the balance of speed vs. originality, which often leads to speed winning and therefore me needing to use pre-made resources. I’ve long battled against this with my superiors, I hope the day will come when originality wins.

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  32. Thanks for the post very useful

  33. I don’t get why business would use a guarantee seal used by other businesses. If you really stand by your offering, you put your own stamp to it, so to speak. Not download some graphics from the net like everybody else.

  34. I don’t think anyone even sees these symbols except webmasters. But yes – internet seems like free for all.

  35. Great post !…thanks for share with us

  36. In the past decade, the issues of copying content is on the raise because blog and website can generate money!

  37. Actually, icons like these make me more suspicious. It just looks lame and like “pushing” credibility with force. The more signs like this a website has, the less secure it seems to me.

  38. Generally your return rate should be low and the guarantee is just to make the people feel better about a decision they should have already made before they get there.

  39. Certain keywords regarding protection are now bust. Guarantee still works though.

  40. yes good point, I think that this is damaging however the main people who take other peoples images are people who are new to internet marketing so it would be quite harsh to come down hard on these people but there are some images, like the one that you are using that needs to be unique because that is an image that has authority and the more people that use it the less of a power statement it will create.
    Nice Blog :)

  41. Wow, yeah I never really thought much about it but you do see those almost identical badges everywhere. They look good, and if you can find them free that explains their popularity, it seems all too many small businesses aren’t willing to hire a designer like me for anything short of major need, heck there are plenty of them happy without even an original logo to represent them. Somehow designers have become seen as fluff and unneeded to many new businesses, and it hurts to see the proof.

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