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Key Message Blunders

Part Two: Over-promising


2. Over-promising

Marketers often feel tempted to present their company or its products and services as a wonderful surprise or as exceeding anybody’s expectations. The problem with such over-promising: It implies low or misguided expectations as well as gullibility in the reader. This can strike people as a subtle insult. Even more certainly, it triggers skepticism. There is a better way.

Consider these examples:

  1. "Our mission is to exceed your expectations for quality and service every time." on a company's website and customer receipts.
  2. "Something special for everyone!" a slogan promoting a community event.
  3. "Why shop anywhere else?" on the billboard promoting a shopping mall.

Example 1 triggers a confounding dual response: uncertainty and skepticism. "How could they know what my expectations are?" "Why be so presumptuous about how easily my expectations are exceeded?" "Do they really think that they can catch me off guard in my gauge of quality and service?" Because such thoughts come to mind when people encounter statements like this, they can be counterproductive in marketing.

Example 2 suggests that anybody could attend this event (e.g. concert, convention, rummage sale, community picnic) with anybody else accompanying and find satisfaction. Thus, "Something special for everyone!" makes too broad a promise to appeal to people as individuals with individual needs, tastes, and preferences. This broadly generic quality weakens it considerably.

In example 3, a rhetorical question implies that one shopping mall is a superior place to shop for any reason, for any shopper, under any circumstances. What could be more effective at evoking skepticism, outright rejection as false, or insult? Consider these effects on market perception counterproductive.

When a promoter can promise an experience that consistently, appreciably distinguishes it from alternatives, credible truths make over-promising unnecessary.

Better to articulate an authentic, relevant key message that reflects values, thoughts, and feelings shared by people who match the ideal client profile.


- Glenn R. Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.


Click for Key Message Blunders 1

Click for Key Message Blunders 3

Click for Key Message Blunders 4

Click for an overview of key messages

Click for three reasons why independent businesses need key messages to succeed


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