No Promises

We love guarantees. Reducing risk when purchasing a new car or trying out a new gym is a deal-sealer for many people because it means you can jump headfirst into the pool, but pull yourself back out as dry as when you started should you find the temperature is not to your liking, depth is not ideal, or the chlorination levels are too high.

We also like to follow instructions that guarantee certain results. Try this diet, you’ll lose 20 pounds, guaranteed. Try this philosophy, you’ll be way more zen in no time, guaranteed.

The trouble with that latter batch of assurances is that they’re more generalization or optimal turnout-based than mathematically certain principles. Most people who try that diet will not achieve the results they want. Most people who try a given philosophy on for size will move on to another when it fails to bring them the peace they crave.

You see this a lot online: promises made about how much money you can make a month or how many more readers you can attain and the like. And it’s not that they’re lying, per se; it’s more that they’re building false hope into their product, whether it’s an idea or a process or an actual widget that they’re selling.

The most honest thing a person who believes in their tactic or diet or whatnot can say is probably this:

“This has worked for me, and continues to do so. If you were me, with my background, connections, genetics, etc, you’d likely get very similar results if you do things exactly as I did, for obvious reasons. You not being me, however, will experience some deviation, major or minor. In fact, while I’m pretty sure you’ll get something out of this, I can make no promises that it will be beneficial at all. Hell, it may even be a net negative. But I believe it’s worth trying nonetheless.”

It’s not the most inspiring or punchy block of marketing copy ever written, granted, but it sets the right expectations, and you can be sure that if the customer does get what they’re hoping out of what you’re selling, they’ll be even more thrilled than if optimal results were guaranteed from the beginning.

Operating in this fashion makes it far more likely that you’ll be able to build long-term relationships with customers, clients, friends, whatever, than if you set the bar high and fail to clear it. Or worse, set it high and then blame the person on the other side of things for not performing up to unrealistic standards you set.

Update: April 12, 2017

I’m still waiting to see marketing copy like this somewhere in the wild. I don’t know that it’ll ever happen, but in a way, representing such a counterfactual position, I’m guessing it would do pretty well.