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Do tricky marketing claims really help you as a marketer?

“Drivers who switched to us saved an average of $538.” Maybe you’ve seen that claim on TV commercials or online. So it sounds like their auto insurance is cheaper, right? Well, maybe not. This is actually a tricky claim, designed to fool us. It actually doesn’t tell us a thing about whether this company has cheaper auto insurance rates than any other one. Many insurance companies make this claim and it is meaningless. The question is, “Is it good marketing?”

Before we delve into that question, some of you might be dying to know why it is that this claim is meaningless, because it sounds like this company must be cheaper, doesn’t it? I will walk you through it.

Deutsch: Ein Auto-Unfall in Tokyo, Japan. Engl...
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When someone compares insurance rates, and find that this company is higher-priced, they don’t switch. So, when people do switch, it’s almost always because the rates are lower. That means that every insurance company can total up the average savings of those that switch. So this claim tells you nothing about which companies are cheaper or more expensive, although it sounds really good.

But the question remains, is this good marketing?

I say no, and social media is the main reason why. TV commercials, salespeople, and other marketing can put out these kinds of fatuous claims and fool you. Maybe this claim fooled you. Maybe you even got a quote from a company that claimed this. Maybe you even saved money, so you switched.

But now that I have used social media to puncture the claim, it might not spur you to the same action. And now you might look with suspicion upon any company that tries to foist this claim on you. Because with social media, you can no longer fool one customer at a time. You need to fool all of them. And as each tricky claim is unveiled, you are not only forced to come up with another tricky claim, but you lose a little credibility each time, so each claim rings a bit more hollow, even if people can’t puncture the claim.

Is that worth it? If trust is the main ingredient in getting someone to buy, is it worth using tricky claims to shortcut that process? Now understand, I am not accusing insurance companies of lying or in any way making a false claim. The people who switched really did save $538, I am sure. But they are carefully formulating that statement to fool people into thinking that all or at least most people save that money by switching, which is hardly true.

There is nothing illegal about this. There isn’t even anything unethical about this, I don’t think. My question, though, is whether it is smart. In the long run, will it work, or is it just one more desperate scorched earth tactic that wins in the short run but loses badly over time?

Do you have any claims like this one? If someone wrote a blog post about your claim, what would you say?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, a leading digital media marketing consultancy based in New York City. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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