Show Me, Don't Tell Me

Simply saying that you’re the best is sometimes one of the worst things that you can do.

Every company wants to tell consumers its product or service is the best. But what does being the best really mean? If you can’t substantiate that claim on why you’re better than your competitors, it’ll become apparent that you’re only blowing hot air.

There’s a reason why we laugh at that scene in the Christmas movie Elf when Will Ferrell, an elf who’s never been outside the North Pole, excitedly congratulates a small NYC coffee shop for their advertised claim of making “the world’s best cup of coffee.” Because we know it’s something anyone can state.

So how do you say you have a great product without saying it? You show it—with powerful imagery, stats, facts, and thoughtful, descriptive copy.

Imagery—Seeing is believing

Humans are by nature visual beings. Because potential buyers make purchasing decisions based on what they see just as often as what they might hear or read, showing the product in action can help highlight the key benefits more effectively than what words like “best” can express.

Take the “world’s best cup of coffee,” for example. Show it being poured into a nice mug, steam wafting from the brew and into the nostrils of a delighted consumer. The word “best” pales in comparison to the conclusions a consumer can come up with on his or her own—that this coffee is hot, delicious, and overall desirable.

But what if the product you’re highlighting is not quite as evocative as coffee? When you start out by asking yourself “What makes this product so good?” you can sell even a stapler. Identify the benefits (staples hundreds of pages together with ease and has a compact design) and highlight at least one of them with a distinct image (stapler chomping down on a thigh-high stack of papers). And just like that, the stapler has become more marketable.

Facts and Stats—Let the numbers do the talking

Consumers crave hard evidence for your claims. With so many options out there, they want to make sure that what they buy will be worth their time and money. Facts and statistics are powerful motivators, so use them to your advantage.

4 out of 5 Dentists recommend Trident Gum.” For years this was the tagline that allowed Trident Gum to stand out from the pack. (Pun intended!) It makes Trident the preferred healthier choice without explicitly saying so. Of course, when using numbers like this, it’s important to keep the research updated and accurate to make the claim as effective as possible. In the end, using the dentist recommendation creates a much stronger reason to believe than “Trident Gum is great!”

Think of the last time you heard of a restaurant described as “highly rated.” Without qualifying it, the claim could be attributed to anything from a Zagat score to a comment the owner’s nephew made one late evening. Obviously, one holds a little more weight than the other. Specificity gives facts more shape and solidity. The more tangible a claim, the more you’re showing without telling.

Writing—Don’t write it off

Believe it or not, the “showing” can be done exclusively in the copy, so long as it’s thoughtful and benefit-driven. If you can’t get away from the word “best,” don’t let the description rest on the product itself. Think about what is best about it. Folgers did this with its jingle, “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” Folgers doesn’t claim to be the best coffee; it claims to be the best part of waking up in the morning. That unique selling proposition is what makes their product stand out.

And when your company can’t be the best, it can always be honest. Avis proudly donned the title of 2nd best for 5 decades with what is considered one of the greatest slogans of all time. With “We Try Harder,” Avis completely changed the conversation and turned their losses into profits. And it could only work because their competitor Hertz was number one. So because they’re not on top (they’re number two) they promise to try harder for you (the customer) in hopes of one day becoming that number one car rental provider. Amazing.

When it comes down to it, marketing is a billion dollar venture and talk is cheap. If you’ve got something important to share, you have to qualify what separates your business from your competitors. You might not be number one in the world today, but no industry leader reached their peak by claiming their own greatness. They proved it and the people accepted it. Now it’s your turn to show the world what your business is made of.

Published on August 18, 2015