More is less when it comes to hyping your firm. Yet most of us who have ever penned marketing copy have been guilty of making statements that don't stand up to scrutiny. The odd thing is how often we resort to using the same empty marketing claims as our competitors to try to differentiate our firms.
For example, consider the over-used phrase "full-service engineering firm." What does that mean, anyway? Is there a minimum number of engineering disciplines or services you have to have to qualify as a full-service firm? Perhaps the phrase is simply meant to clarify that you're not a "partial-service engineering firm."
Type "unique architectural firm" into Google and you get over 182,000 hits. There are only about 105,000 licensed architects in the U.S. To be fair, you could say that there's no other firm exactly like yours, hence it is unique. But that definition renders the word pretty useless, doesn't it?
A few other examples of hype that I found in a brief survey of A/E firm websites (emphasis added):
- Our projects deliver long-term, far-reaching benefits for their communities and serve as the genesis for future community-focused development.
- Our goal is to raise the standards of professional consulting engineering by hiring industry professionals who understand the complexities of building and maintaining modern infrastructures.
- We provide pioneering solutions that better our community and safeguard the environment.
- Our firm is an award-winning leader in engineering design.
- [The firm] accomplishes this through unparalleled customer service—from pre-design to post-design construction follow-through.
Okay, maybe I'm making too much of throw-away phrases that no one takes seriously. But isn't that the point? When you use empty marketing claims that are not really to be believed, what does that do to the value of your marketing?
Let me suggest that you avoid all such language in your marketing, proposals, and sales conversations. Meaningless claims of distinction only diminish your message. A few guidelines:
Avoid absolutes unless they're true. This includes words such as unique, unparalleled, complete, and full. Absolutes are commonly used in marketing copy but are rarely accurate. That only erodes the substance of of your marketing claims—even your true ones.
Back up your strongest claims with proof. If, for example, you claim your firm was one of the "pioneers in sustainable design for Virginia public schools," you need to back that up with evidence. Stating the obvious? You might be surprised how often such claims are made without proof. And even if the claim is true, it only evokes skepticism without substantiation.
Be diligent in compiling the evidence. A key reason firms make empty marketing claims is that they simply don't have the proof to back up what they think is true. You say your firm saves clients money or minimizes construction claims? Can you produce the numbers? Providing a handful of examples out of the many projects you've done won't cut it. If you want to make such boasts, get serious about compiling the data to support it. Most A/E firms don't.
Make sure your claimed distinction isn't routine. I often see firms boasting of their 80% repeat business rate as evidence of exceptional client service. But that's pretty close to the norm in our business. And it's not necessarily a good measure of client satisfaction anyway. Your high repeat business rate could indicate weakness in winning new clients. Avoiding such useless claims is easier if you benchmark your firm's performance against competitors.
Beware of bloated adjectives. Much of the marketing hype we create involves the overuse of superlative adjectives like excellent, outstanding, exceptional, best-in-class, and industry-leading. I understand the temptation to use such words (I've used them many times myself), but the truth is they are at best useless, and perhaps counterproductive to your intent. Many marketing experts advise eliminating most adjectives from your marketing copy. I think it's wise to generally avoid what you might call "elective adjectives" (adjectives that aren't really needed to clarify your writing).
Identify or create tangible distinctives so you don't need to resort to empty claims. The best marketing copy is simply sharing the unadorned truth about a genuinely different company. If you struggle to avoid hype in marketing your firm, you might benefit from doing an inventory of distinctives:
- List everything you can think of about your firm that's different or rare in your business
- Rate or rank the items on your list according to their marketing value
- Write down the evidence you have to support each claim on your list
- Eliminate from your list anything that lacks adequate proof (or determine how you'll produce that proof)
You might be surprised what doing this inventory reveals. We often write marketing copy by rote without reexamining the substance of our claims. There's a good chance that you have a marketplace distinctive or two that you've been overlooking. Or you have proof of a distinctive that you haven't been using. Or perhaps you'll learn you really don't have much to brag about. In that case, it's not all bad. That revelation could serve to motivate your firm to do something about it.