Why we won't help you brag

Wait a second. As marketers, aren’t we supposed to help you tower above the competition?

Yes. But if you feel it’s good to flood customers with news of your awards, market rankings and superior offerings before you even acknowledge their existence, we probably aren’t the right marketing team for you.

We feel this behavior is the opposite of attractive. Think about it. When’s the last time you were captivated by someone who spoke endlessly about herself in a meeting or social gathering?

Maybe you think people aren’t corporations. (You’d be right, but that’s a different conversation.) Our point here is that unchecked ego coming from a company is no less repellent than the self-centered babble we flee from at a cocktail party. Yet we witness it everywhere, every day, from extravagant Super Bowl spots to the neon postcards we get from Main Street businesses.

Why do we think bragging is bad for brands? And how is outright boasting different from effective self-promotion … the kind that draws fans and builds sales?

For solid answers we look to our friends in direct marketing, who live or die by the power of their messages to attract new customers. Herschell Gordon Lewis, DM legend and author of On the Art of Writing Copy, makes it crystal clear:

“Unless the reader regards himself as the target of your message, benefit can’t exist. Benefit demands a ‘we/you’ relationship.”

Boastful brands aren’t thinking about you. They’re too in love with themselves to focus on anyone or anything else. They’re likely to refer to you in the third person, like this:

“We are the premier provider of world-class {insert very complex-sounding product or service here}, offering game-changing solutions for business, industry and philanthropy.”

Can you even see yourself in there? Ummmmm, sorta. But as we’ve already said, people identify as humans first, organizations second. Which makes this message so much better:

“You’ve got challenges. We’re ready with solutions.”

Too plain? Go ahead, put your favorite keywords and adjectives in there.

“You’ve got big data challenges. We’re ready with advanced solutions.”

It still works. The team with the head-banging issues in your highly specialized field realizes you’re standing by right now to help them. That’s powerful.

(By the way, the phrase “right now” is a huge favorite with direct response writers. Why? Because sales and donations happen when pressing needs are met. Whether it’s new shoes for the prom or the good feeling that comes from supporting a disaster relief fund, urgency wins.)

So does empathy. When people feel understood, they’re ready to understand you, as the motivational guru Steven Covey pointed out. 

OK. All this sounds good in theory. But what’s the play when your organization has reached some crucial summit? I mean, if you won a J.D. Power & Associates award or showed up in Wired Magazine, you wouldn’t bury that news, would you?

Of course not. But why not link it to your audience’s interests? It’s easy to do:

“Wired Magazine loves us. Here’s why we think you will, too.”

Or share the credit for your success:

“Quality awards tell us we’re hitting the high standards you’ve set for us.”

Any of these messages can turn into pure gold with the addition of real testimonials from real people who adore your products and services. Praise from others ranks far above any crown you might place on your own head.

Want help figuring out how to attract more customers or donors by talking with them, not at them? We’re here to help.