Making claims credible

6th of February 2020 Article by Paul Wonnacott
Making claims credible

Paul Wonnacott is managing director of Vectair Systems. In this exclusive ECJ blog he asks whether we can trust what companies say about their own products.

The cleaning industry, like any other industry, relies on products that do what they say they do. This is important, as cleaning isn't just about making things look and smell nice, cleaning is also about making things safe for the public. If soaps and cleaning chemicals didn't actually remove germs, as a society we'd be in all sorts of trouble!

But can we trust what companies say about their own products? Is something really ‘the world's best' just because a company says it is? Who decides what is ‘the best', in a world where competition is rife and opinions often matter more than facts?

Compelling marketing messages are key to the success of a product - without marketing, your business could offer the best products or services in your industry but none of your potential customers would know about it.

In the consumer world, catchy slogans like ‘Because you're worth it' (L'Oréal), ‘Every little helps' (Tesco) and ‘Just do it' (Nike) are symbols of companies that, generally speaking, deliver what they promise. These slogans are usually reserved for big business with marketing budgets that stretch into the millions, and aren't typically seen in the cleaning industry. But, they demonstrate the power of marketing messaging and the effect it can have on customers.

Not all marketing is good marketing, though. As a general rule, we have to be wary of ‘marketing fluff'. Back in 2015, an article in the UK Telegraph newspaper discussed how ‘four in five beauty claims cannot be substantiated', and that according to a study of cosmetic adverts, nearly one in four wrinkle removal claims were found to include ‘outright lies'.

Researchers also highlighted the meaningless and often baffling lexicon used to support the assertions, such as ‘clinically proven' and ‘dermatologically tested'. These statements portrayed to mean something very powerful, however there was often nothing to back up these claims. Similarly, technological terms without any explanation are baffling some consumers who at first are impressed, but then left confused or disappointed.

Companies succeeding in making their claims credible are those who let others do their bragging, or whose products speak for themselves, through recommendations, reviews or testimonials. Let's face it, anyone can say their product is the smartest, or the most environmentally-friendly, or the best in the world, but surely what is ‘the best' is determined by its customers. And is anything ever ‘the best' at anything, or just different?

(One of my favourite advert series of all time was the Carlsberg ‘probably the best beer in the world' commercials. Of course, they couldn't say they supply the best beer in the world, as this is up to personal taste and preference. But they did put a clever spin on things to make a catchy commercial.)

Verifying scientific claims is something that is highly desired by customers but in many cases, skimmed over by businesses. Can companies put statistics and numbers on their claims? Can they explain in very simple terms how something very ‘techy' works? Can they admit their weaknesses and provide facts not opinions? Consumers shouldn't be afraid to ask these questions.

The environment is an area that is currently coming into question in the cleaning industry. How environmentally-friendly are our products? It's great that more eco-friendly products are being produced, but it's useful to educate ourselves on what terms like biodegradable really mean.

The Green Guides state that if you use the word "biodegradable," without further qualifying how long the degradation will take, you are impliedly stating that the product will degrade within "a reasonably short period of time." What is a "reasonably short period of time"? One year, according to the Green Guides.

So what else can companies do to demonstrate the benefits of their products without making any wild or hard-to-prove claims?

End user case studies go a long way in demonstrating how successful a product is, as they provide an impartial view on things, and often go into detail about individual experiences. Industry awards also provide a good idea as to what professionals in an industry think of a product. Gaining a relevant accreditation - such as the FSC label from the Forest Stewardship Council, or the Safer Choice label from the US environmental protection agency - helps promote credibility within the marketplace.

Tradeshows are a great way for customers to touch and test products and get a real feel for something. Ultimately, catching the attention of your customers is important, but offering up a platform for consumers to make their own minds up is even more so if you want to see continued success.

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