Puffery and the Entrepreneur

Unique. One-of-a-kind. Award-winning. Leader. State of the art. Cutting edge. Bleeding edge. Next generation. Revolutionary. Robust. Extraordinary. Legendary. Transformative. Groundbreaking. Best in class. Magical. Out of the box. Feature-rich. World class. Dynamic. Premier. Amazing. Iconic. I think you probably see where this is going.

Ah yes, the world of superlatives and puffed-up buzz words. As an entrepreneur, I want to persuade you that my product or service is the best thing since sliced bread – maybe even better! And thus, I tend to use embellishments to convey a certain sense of excitement that will emotionally influence you to buy what I am peddling. Sometimes advertising and marketing that exaggerate are just plain fun. Dos Equis beer uses a spoof in its commercials of The Most Interesting Man in the World. Generally, this sort of marketing is easily identifiable, and the audience goes with the flow.    

What we want to avoid is falling into the “salesmany” stereotype. When I hear entrepreneurs use terms like “crushing it” or “killing it,” I cringe. It is one thing to extoll the virtues of our product or service, but when we cross over into too much puffery our credibility suffers. Is it possible that being more quiet and understated in our approach to marketing and sales could produce the results we seek?

Our customers do not really give a whit whether we are “#1” or provide “world class service.” What they are interested in is how our product or service solves their problem or provides them with real value. Here are a couple of example marketing statements to compare.

Statement #1: “At XYZ Motors we sell more Kias than anyone else in the universe! We’re also number one in service and have won more awards from Kia than any other dealership in the country.”

Statement #2: “At XYZ Motors we are creative and will help figure out a way to put you in a new car that can fit comfortably within your budget. We are also pleased to keep our service department open every weeknight until 10:00 PM because we know that many customers can’t bring their car in until they get off from work.”

Obviously the first statement is full of back patting and chest thumping. The focus is completely on the dealership. The second statement is customer centric. Here, XYZ Motors shows great empathy for both the customer’s pocketbook and his or her busy schedule.

One of the reasons that businesses use hyperbole is because they have not figured out how to differentiate their product or service. This is especially true for companies that compete in the commodity space. Apparently, they believe that yelling as loud as they can, will motivate customers to show up and shell out their hard-earned dollars to save a cent or two. And there is no question that some people are inclined this way. But I think that most people are not thrilled to be insulted by such boorish and uninspired messaging. An alternative approach might be for the business to become much more creative in determining its value proposition and then develop a marketing campaign around the benefits to the customer.

Entrepreneurs must also be mindful of how different generations respond to marketing and salesmanship. But as political campaigns have become more and more over-the-top with either fluff or mudslinging, I think there is a carryover impact on the business world. All consumers, regardless of generation, are more skeptical of dubious claims and mindless drivel. Instead, they want facts and substance. They need real data that supports a marketing/sales pitch and explains the WIFM in plain English. And of course, WIFM means “What’s in it for me?”

Laying out the case for how our product or service solves a problem for our customers can be done in an innovative fashion. And we do not have to appear like a stereotypical pushy salesperson to do so.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

All Else Being Equal . . .

Question: Competition is tougher than ever. What is the most effective way to be different?

Answer: You have certainly asked the right question. Whether we are selling a product, a service or looking for a job, the key is differentiation. Think for a moment about great companies in America today and how they are different. Walmart is known for huge selection and low prices. Nordstrom is a champion of customer service but sells at a higher price point. TOMS Shoes donates one pair of shoes to a needy person for every pair of shoes a customer purchases.

Identify your niche and figure out how you can be the absolute master of that niche. But don’t stop there. Make sure that everything about your company, your product/service and about you – is reflective of this mastery. Allow me to share an example. One of our companies acquires, owns and operates apartment communities across the country. Buying apartments is a very competitive business these days. We have chosen to focus on purchasing properties that were initially developed using affordable housing tax credits. There aren’t as many buyers for this type of property due to the complexity of the tax credit program. We have become known as a buyer that understands the program and will pay a fair price.

We’ve taken the niche a step further. We market extensively to prospective apartment sellers and have attempted to be just as unique about the way we go about doing this. We don’t use e-mail – everyone does that now. Instead we send personally addressed high-quality marketing materials via snail mail. Our kick-off piece was a gold cardboard tube that contained a cover letter and a black velvet bag. Inside the bag was a gold dollar coin with a message saying, “Consider this to be a down payment on a profitable relationship.” Every three weeks an announcement of an apartment acquisition is sent to our prospective sellers. And one of our associates makes follow-up phone calls every 60 days. Believe me it is having the desired effect.

Here’s the takeaway. Do your homework and find that area in which you can specialize. Get creative and devise unique ways to deliver your message. Remember that those who win are able to convey a value proposition that resonates with their customers (or prospective employers). Above all remember that life is about making a difference in the lives of others. From an entrepreneurial perspective, those who follow through and truly make a difference will prosper.