The promises you make

“I will send that over to you.”

Which, of course, they don’t.

Because it’s easy to make a promise in the moment but a lot harder to keep it later.

It’s also a bummer for the other person because they might have thought you mean what you say.

Of course, you didn’t lie. You meant to keep it. And yet, you didn’t.

Maybe you just forgot about it. Or an urgent call came your way. Maybe it was even impossible to keep the promise.

The thing is: the person you made the promise probably to doesn’t care. And I think she shouldn’t care. She cares about whether you keep your promises.

But there’s an easy fix: Make less promises.

Make less promises so you can keep the ones you do make.

In other words: only make promises that you are absolutely certain you can keep.

Don’t try to be “nice” by making a promise in the moment.

Be nice by keeping the promises you do make.

Overdeliver on your clickbait

We’re living in the attention economy (think “5 super weird reasons why your headline doesn’t perform”).

Whoever gets the audience’s attention, gets the first shot at selling them something. So, it’s no wonder that people love to use attention grabbing techniques – such as scroll-stoppers or click-baity headlines.

LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook are flooded with these things that have the sole purpose of making you click “Read more”.

And it might get you the click. Initially, that is. Until these techniques wear off and the readers just give up on clicking “Read more” because every single time the actual post doesn’t deliver on the promise.

And suddenly, something unexpected becomes the attention grabber for these readers. Suddenly, they are drawn to the people who just post valuable stuff. Smart thoughts. Funny takes. Or useful hacks.

Don’t get me wrong, though. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing people’s attention. If you can grab their attention, go for it. (We’re really in the attention economy.) Just make sure that what you deliver after the click delivers – or even better: overdelivers – on what you promised before the click.

In other words: Make a bold promise – one that gets people’s attention – but keep it, even better: overdeliver on it.

All successful marketing works the same

All successful marketing basically works the same.

It makes customers see a brighter future and leads them to the point of no return, a point where it becomes an unbearable thought for them to go back to normal and so the only possible resolution is to buy your product.

Successful marketing makes the customer want that brighter future.

The problem is: Sneaky marketers know that, too. Well, they know particularly well. All of the sneaky marketing schemes out there are built on that principle. Sneaky marketers are masterful at figuring out what customers desire and then making bold promises around these desires – without caring about whether they can keep these promises.

The challenge for honest marketers is that they do care for keeping their promises.

The challenge for the customer is to notice the difference: Does the marketer (only) care for their money or for delivering on the promise?

The lesson for honest marketers is to understand these principles of successful marketing and master them even better than the sneaky marketer, by answering these three questions:

  1. What is it that my customers truly desire?
  2. What is the boldest promise that I can confidently make towards that desire?
  3. How can I lead them to the point of no return?

Marketing stories that work

A great product solves a problem, resolves a struggle, or fulfills a desire.

It tastes delicious without me having to cook. It sounds awesome while being affordable. It’s efficient, sustainable, stylish. It gives me a feeling of mastery or pure joy. Or whatever it is for your product.

Great products transform me into a better person. One who eats healthier, takes better photos, works with more focus, or makes better decisions.

Essentially, it gets me from point A where I still have that struggle to point B where my struggle is resolved.

It’s that transformation that great marketing stories capture. They give us the feeling of being seen with our struggle and they light us the path to a better future where that struggle is resolved.

Marketing stories work when the struggle is real and the path to the future is accessible.

They keep working when the product delivers on the promise.

5 new clients every week

It’s easy to speak with clarity.

What’s hard is to speak with clarity about the things we deeply care about.

“This program will bring you 5 new clients every week.” is about as clear as it gets. This statement is also really easy to come up with if you don’t care about its truthfulness.

When you speak about the things you care about, you do care about truth.

… This new service you were building over the last three years. That product that demanded from your team months of blood, sweat, and tears. The lessons you’ve learned on your path to becoming the leader you are and that you want to share in a keynote. …

These things are complex. We know so much about them that we easily fall under the Curse of Knowledge. We struggle with what to leave out and what to focus on. We’re unsure about the promises we can confidently make. We use language and abstraction that might be hard to get for others. Ultimately, we are so deeply expert in our field that it’s hard to look with non-expert eyes.

And yet, it’s precisely these things that require clarity. If only because we must not leave the field to the bullshitters.

If marketing was a bakery

We would probably hate cake.

As a baker, when your cake doesn’t taste great, the best thing you can do is to learn to bake a better tasting cake.

The default approach of many marketers is different. They will take the cake and decorate it beautifully. Invent a story about how the recipe is an ancient and long forgotten secret of someone’s grandmother. Throw some incentives in so you can get three if you buy two (although you might not even want one). And have a celebrity, who never tasted the cake, tell us how delicious it is.

And then, when you’ve tricked the customer into buying that piece of cake, trust erodes as the experience falls short of the expectation.

The first bite is with the eye. But sooner or later, the customer gets to experience the actual taste. If the actual bite isn’t great, that first impression will quickly be forgotten.

The default approach to marketing is prone to deception: Give me what you have and I will make it appear attractive and find ways to persuade a customer to buy it.

Lighting the path is different because it starts with a great cake. You decorate a great cake not as a means to hide a weakness but because it makes a great cake even greater. You don’t invent a story about the recipe to make it appear cooler, you tell the actual story because it’s fascinating, let’s say due to the breathtaking attention to detail in making the cake.

Now, when the actual bite confirms the eye’s bite, it builds trust. And we might fall in love with the cake. And buy a second one even without any incentive.

Trusting your customer

Let’s suppose your customer knows what you know. Would you trust them with the decision to buy from you?

If not then why not?

Is it because you don’t trust in your offering or because you don’t trust in your customer to make the right decision?

If it’s the former, fix your product.

If it’s the latter, try empathy. How does the right decision look like for your customer? Why wouldn’t they choose you? Could it be that they are right in not choosing you? Or could it be that they would choose you but you won’t believe it until they actually do?

The best marketing starts with trust in your customer. If you lack that trust, the best investment is to figure out where that lack comes from so you can adjust accordingly.

The slow buyer

Most businesses are obsessed with getting customers to buy faster.

While dismissing that the customer who buys slowly, after careful consideration, is more likely to turn into a raving fan later.

The magic ingredient that can’t easily be accelerated is trust. Trust can’t be built over night. Trust grows. Usually rather slowly.

But it’s the stuff long-lasting relationships are made of.

Marketing in sync with the outcome

Great marketing is true to who you are.

Great marketing also delivers results.

The confusion occurs when our true story doesn’t deliver the results we’re looking for. It’s tempting to conclude that we must bend the truth a little bit. Because, well, we need to pay the bills, right? So, we need the results. Also, it’s just a teeny bit, so really no big deal, agreed? (Plus: others are cheating as well.)

Well, your call.

I feel a better approach is to change our perspective. It’s rather likely that the story we’re telling with our marketing is not the only story that’s true to who we are.

Quite the opposite. There are almost certainly ways to shift our story while remaining true. Maybe we just told it to the wrong people. Or we told our truth while neglecting theirs. It might also be that there’s a slight adaptation to our offer that’s still true to who we are but resonates much stronger than our current offer.

When you do work that matters, it’s almost inevitable that it finally resonates. Fix your product so that the true story is in service of your audience. Fix your story so that it’s told on behalf of your audience. To the right audience.

And the results will come.

The complete secret recipe

Here’s the complete guide to marketing success.

Ask yourself this question: “If they knew what you know, would they buy?”

Depending on the answer, do this:

If not, don’t even bother with your communication. Fix your product. Repeat.

If yes, all you need to do is tell a true story about your product.

Skip the bullshit. Speak with clarity. That’s all there is to it.

Spread the Word

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz