Promises have an innate positive association. So many cultural coming of age traditions are wrapped up in them: baptisms, bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, various holidays, they are all ceremonies that represent a larger promise that a community or individual swears to uphold. Broken promises on the other hand are synonymous with heart break, betrayal, catastrophe and mistrust.
Promises are a powerful marketing tool. With all of this conditioning it’s hard to look at promises in an objective light because our emotional response to them is almost instant! That’s why they can be such a powerful tool in a marketer’s toolbox. When someone promises us something, regardless of what it is, we want to trust them, we want to feel good about it, and we slip into the warm fuzzy feeling just like they wanted us to.
We all make promises. They’re interwoven into the fabric of our lives, so we make them all the time. Promise, pinky swear, cross my heart, hope to die, without thinking too hard about it we promise all kinds of things just to get a “yes” or to buy a moments quiet from our kids. That’s basically how they work as a marketing tool, as a salve to quickly generate trust in a new relationship. So when a person or company takes the time to make specific promises, it’s important to look at what they really mean.
What if those promises are red flags? Sure they sound good at face value, but what do they really mean and how can we make sure we go in with both eyes open?
“We give you direct access to our entire team”
That’s a lot of distraction potential. Different staff members may interact with the client throughout the course of a project, but there is always one key point of contact through which all communication flows. This not only keeps everyone on the same page instead of fracturing communication across an unknown number of inboxes, it also keeps staff focused on their roles, which is a boon for both the client AND the agency.
“We respond within 1 business day”
Not every email needs an instant response. This promise says that a critical emergency is given the same weight as “I forgot my password”, and gives the power to set priorities to the client. That’s not going to result in efficient communication, or thoughtful responses and is going to be a difficult expectation to maintain!
“We keep our promises” or “We only make promises we can keep”
This doesn’t mean anything.. These statements beg question- is the default assumption that they weren’t? In the real world, we make commitments, we manage expectations, and most of the time things go according to plan. But inevitably there are times when, often for reasons outside of anyone’s control, things go south. A promise like “No matter what happens you can expect us to be professional, communicative, and proactive.” sounds more realistic, and reassuring, don’t you think?
“We have a solution for every business!”
Is it one size fits all, or one size fits none? This statement tells you immediately what sort of company you’re looking at: one that is trying their damnedest to close a sale, regardless of whether the client is a good fit or not. The reality is that serving a mom and pop shop and a business that pulls in 2-5mil a year is nearly impossible to do and be respectful to both clients. No matter how hard they try, it’s just not an even playing field.
“We will deliver you a unique and creative website”
What about one that drives sales? Unique and creative are words that matter to a designer. But your website isn’t for the designer, the developer, or even you as the client; it’s for your customers. And ultimately it is a tool to build your business. You want a website that’s conversion driven, with intuitive content architecture, a conventional navigation interface, and feels familiar and comfortable for your customers.
What promises can you trust?
Trust promises that follow a plan of action and don’t impose arbitrary rules, and pertain to things under their control:
- We will be professional, efficient and action-oriented
- We will communicate proactively and keep you in the loop
- We will be honest and up front about timelines, budget, and any issues that arise
- We will treat you as a partner
As with any relationship, don’t start with promises, start with communication, the rest will follow.
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