A client recently asked me to delete the reference to fires, floods and earthquakes from a piece about disaster recovery because it sounded like we were using "fear, uncertainty and doubt" to sell their products.

I’m old enough to remember where “FUD” started, when IBM would scare customers from buying lower-cost hardware, software or accessories from competitors by pre-announcing snazzy new features that wouldn’t ship for six months to a year. Customers would put off buying non-IBM products for fear they wouldn’t work with IBM’s announced (but yet to ship) future offerings.

IBM got FUDed itself by, among other things, a federal antitrust suit investigating its marketing techniques. But in today’s lawsuit-happy society, the lawyers have run amok erasing anything that sounds negative from a marketing piece. After all, if you’re buying disaster recovery products, it’s your job to think about flood, fire, famine, earthquakes, bird flu and a rain of frogs and vermin, for all I know.

Should you go around trashing your competition by name? Usually not in a marketing literature. But if there’s a class of established product in your market that has known flaws, and your product legitimately overcomes those flaws, there’s nothing wrong with saying it. If you sell high-availability clustering software that keeps systems running 24/7, and if you sell to financial services firms that lose millions for every minute of down time, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out the misery your product can avoid.

Having said that, a few ground rules to stay on the side of the angels:

Don’t overstate the threat. Rather than general predictions of doom and gloom, cite actual threats or costs avoided by one of your customers. This is more credible and specific than hypothetical’s.

Explain which specific threats your product or service help a customer avoid. Rather than saying “assure uninterrupted communications” say “assure uninterrupted VoIP and cellular service.” This is more credible and, as Henry Kissinger is rumored to have said, it has “the added advantage of being true.”

Point out what else your customer need to do besides buying your stuff to avoid ruin. Security and disaster recovery vendors are quick to point out, accurately, that companies need proper policies and training in addition to the right technology. Again, this boosts your credibility and passes the Kissinger test of being true.

Don’t let your lawyers turn your marketing namby-pamby, but do use common sense to hammer home why customers have a legitimate need for what you sell.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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