Commentary

Telling vs. Trying

"Selling by Telling" is how we in advertising and marketing communications have made our livings since the days of Marconi. We told people why our products were just what they were looking for. How their whites would be whiter, their floors would be shinier and their hair more manageable. We skillfully created an itch with the consumer that could be salved with our product. We totally controlled all aspects of the messaging. The customer role in this process was to listen. She heard only what we wanted her to hear.

Time to wave those days adieu. Today, we are but one of many sources of information for our customers. They're hearing about us from their friends. From their peers. From media sources. From bloggers. From message boards. From third-party review sites.

No matter how you try to spin it, the information control we used to enjoy has gone the way of the 14.4 modem. What it comes down to for consumers is this: who can I trust when making purchase decisions? In an era of perpetual spin, of manipulative messaging, of being misled and mistreated by marketers, who can blame people for not accepting as gospel everything we say?

I'm convinced that, today, the best way to sell to people is to allow them to sell to themselves. Instead of relying on puffery and unsubstantiated claims to win over consumers, let them discover what our product can deliver on their own. Stay on top of what's being said online by customers. Use Social Media to enable communication among peers. Monitor customer reviews. Make information on your products easy to find and readily available.

This changes the way we would approach marketing communications. Instead of relying on a check list of copy points, we would start with a core platform of a single understandable, believable promise, and a shared set of values. Less argument, more promise.

It also assumes that communication alone is not going to "complete the sale." To allow someone to sell herself, she needs to try our product. We need to do whatever it takes to get it into her hands and let her discover for herself that the promise we are making is true.

Old-school tools like coupons, trial sizes, in-store demos and free trial periods take on a more prominent role in the marketing process. Instead of giving us a short-term competitive advantage, those things actually are critical in moving customers up the decision ladder.

Research over the past year (from Nielson and others) shows that coupon redemption is at record highs among consumers of all demos. While one can chalk this up to the stuttering economy, one must also be open to the idea that consumer behavior has made a permanent change to where "trial" has become amplified in the purchase decision process.

As part of your long-term marketing strategy, it makes sense to include initiatives that will allow consumers to use product trial as a way of selling themselves.

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2 comments about "Telling vs. Trying ".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 29, 2010 at 9:09 a.m.

    Great through the ages advise.

  2. Bruce d. Sanders from RIMtailing , July 29, 2010 at 7:44 p.m.

    Before getting the consumer to try the product for themselves, prepare them to experience the best for their first impressions. Even minimal priming can make a big difference. University of Michigan researchers presented one of two chewing gum ads to consumers. The first was designed to appeal to multiple senses, reading “Stimulate your senses.” The other ad mentioned only taste, reading, “Long-lasting flavor.” All the study participants then sampled the gum. Those people reading the multiple-sensory version before the sampling gave higher ratings to the flavor of the gum. The researchers repeated the multiple-sensory versus taste-only advertising/sampling with potato chips and with popcorn. The results were fundamentally the same. And this means of achieving an advantage works even with non-food items. Whether it’s detergent, sporting goods, or hardware, the fuller the preparation of the shopper’s senses, the better. So, yes, give them coupons, but don’t send them in unprepared.