Calling Up What You Can’t Put Down

Seth has a post up on his blog called Benefit of the Doubt. In it, he basically suggests that when doubt is swinging your way in the minds of your consumers, they won’t be so ready to tear you a new one when you (inevitably) screw up. On its face, it’s difficult to argue with this insight. You know, self-deprecation and all that. It’s amazing to me that it’s much of an epiphany for anyone, but I’m sure it is.
Whatever. I wonder about something a little more diabolically subtle about the benefit of the doubt. I wonder whether those who attempt to ingratiate themselves to doubt’s benevolence realize what a cruel bitch it can be when you’re on the business end of it. I wonder this because, in spite of Seth’s five pithy “brainstorms to get you started” in extracting doubt’s benefits, he doesn’t offer the insight that seems to me of singular importance to the topic: Don’t be a damn liar. To demonstrate what I mean, here’s one of Seth’s “brainstorms”:

Build up expectations of difficulty. Magicians are really good at this. If people think what you’re doing is really difficult, they root for you.

Magicians also have the pop culture capital of, well, see for yourself. But that notwithstanding, does anyone else see the glaring problem here? Whatever it is you’re saying about yourself (whether in pursuit of doubt’s benefits or not) better actually be true. Part of what is unctuous about stage magic (no offense, Skye) is that it often maintains the illusion even after the show is over. I’ve seen companies do the same thing. It’s as if they think that because they’ve been holding forth about how innovative or smart or customer-focused they are, they must in fact be so.
For my part, I think benefit of the doubt is conferred upon those in whom we have some trust. We either trust them because we know them or we trust them by proxy: reputation, demeanor, they wear the same brand of socks that you do, etc. So my rejoinder to Seth’s advice is to have real relationships with your customers, use those relationships to honestly exhibit your philosophy and practice, and only rely on the benefit of the doubt when it is offered.

Merit v. Relationship

The great minds in advertising have long championed the emotional sell. As in, a Mercedes SL is sold on its sex appeal, and not, say, the work of the metallurgists on the new alloy used in its body. As I’ve said myself elsewhere, 90%+ of consumers don’t give a damn about your flux capacitor.
I’ve noticed an interesting parallel in sales in general. It seems that with exceptions, even if your product or service is mediocre, as long as you have developed a compelling relationship with your client or prospect, you make the sale. In fact, the relationship clearly does far more than any attempt to extol the virtues of your offering. This isn’t really a revelation. Salespeople everywhere know it.
Perhaps this is why advertising has gotten away with shamelessly lying all these years. Perhaps this is why customer service almost universally sucks (I think, in part, because it is viewed as product support and not part of the relationship.) Perhaps this is why the U.S. Congress is more predisposed to pork than sound policy.