The Problem With the BEST EVER Marketing Strategy

I was three weeks into my first business the first time someone asked for a refund.

Why?, I asked.

You didn't do what you said you would, she responded.

I promised we would do better. I begged for another chance. Then I refunded her money because I knew I sold her on hype.

Running a business will quickly teach you to set expectations. Customers buy things from you with certain expectations, and if you don't deliver, then they don't deliver checks. I've learned that the hard way. There's such a temptation towards hype – especially in the early days. Some people are ready to buy and you feel like that little extra oomph will push them over the edge and convince them to pull out their checkbooks. A few months later, they are no longer your customer and you wasted all that time and investment.

If you don't believe me, a new UGA study has some interesting results along the same lines.

In a study published in the March issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, a team led by UGA Terry College of Business assistant professor Vanessa Patrick finds that people take notice when they feel worse than they thought they would, but-oddly-not when they feel better than expected. The message for marketers, Patrick said, is that too much hype can hurt a company when people realize that their expectations haven't been met.

"A number of marketers hype their product by using words like, 'best ever' or 'the ultimate experience,' to get customers to buy," Patrick said. "But you don't survive with a customer buying something once-satisfaction, repeat purchases and positive word of mouth are very important. Our study suggests that too much hype can be detrimental."

One of my old partners lived by the mantra "underpromise and overdeliver." Keep that in mind when you position your product. Extradorinary claims require extraordinary evidence to back them up.

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  • Great advice. Only yesterday I was speaking to someone in a service organisation where people effecting a sale are automatically made the account managers for that client. That way, if they overpromise, then it’s their responsibility to deliver the goods. It’s a strategy that works well.

  • Rob,

    One of the secrets of creating customer delight is making sure the customer knows you’re delighting them! The cognitive bias of overestimating loss vs. gain plays in here, but it turns out that you can’t delight someone unless you first meet 100% of their existing expectations. I wrote about it here:

    Sometimes it’s hard as a salesperson to know the line between hype and extolling your virtues.


  • Mike’s right. It is hard for some people to know when they’re full of hype. They’ve turned off that inner voice that says, “You’re BS-ing again, ya two-bit phony.”

    Others still hear that little voice and ignore it. They’ve been told that marketers lie and buyers should beware.

    The last group is sick and tired of letting clients down. I wrote about one here

  • “making sure the customer knows you’re delighting them!”..I think the overuse of words like “delight” in a business context is a problem. Unless you are running a circus, people aren’t usually looking for “delight” in their business transactions Am I supposed to be “delighted” by the experience of buying gas? Having my phone service work? How about ratcheting down the expectations a notch and using a term like “pleased”…far too many service operations are so bad that even “satisfied” would be a major improvement.

    I once had a telco CS rep ask me, after a completely unsatisfactory phone call, “did our service today delight you?” Obviously something she had been ordered to ask, probably at the direction of a clueless consultant.

  • David,

    I agree that there is a fetish of customer delight among many business executives who have no interest in pleasing their customers, much less delighting them. That doesn’t mean that delight opportunities don’t exist in the auto maintenance or phone service arenas, or that it’s not worth discussing the concept. But I understand your exasperation with the lip service paid to the term.


  • I also had sometimes experienced this problem myself.
    Generally sellers think that if they hype their products, they will get more sales. I generally hear the client requirement and write it down.i complete all those requirements and then i add few more features in every project myself and then show the client if they like it or not.I also say that there is no extra charge for those added feature and most of the clients become happy. Happy clients mean fast payments and more work.
    So,i would say underpromise and overdeliver.” works for most of the time.