An Open Letter to Executives

To all executives in a position to ever correspond with the media: stop making jackass comments.

Let me show you the type of comments that I mean:

Steve Ballmer:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.

Eric Cador:

In the PC world, with fewer ways of differentiating HP’s products from our competitors, we became number one; in the tablet world we’re going to become better than number one. We call it number one plus.

Tony Hayward while CEO of BP:

I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest.

Don’t make comments like this because you can too easily be proven dead wrong.

Quantifiable Marketing Propaganda (QMP)

I would define marketing propaganda as:

Biased and arbitrary phrases used to describe an upcoming product or service, chiefly invoked by those who stand to benefit from the success of said product or service.

When you add quantifiable in front of that idea you change the definition from a subjective saying, “something is amazing” to something that can be measured — with data. This is the reason the above statements are so bad. Ballmer was proven wrong. Cador will likely be proven wrong too. And well, Hayward…

If you are going to make a ridiculous statement follow Steve Jobs’ lead and call stuff ‘magical’ — magic is rather hard to quantify with data.

Customers

The other problem with QMP statements is that they are often statements that your customers don’t give a crap about. What HP tablet customer wants to buy a tablet more because it is selling well? More likely they want to buy the device because it is a good price, or has good features, or does thing X that they want. 1

Whiners

Lastly QMP statements come off as:

  • Whiny
  • Jealous
  • Spiteful

That’s the last impression you want people to have of your executive staff. Just don’t do it.

Self-deprecation

Too often I see every other company that is not Apple release a new product by saying that it is better than the other guy (whether directly or indirectly stated). Again, that’s doing it wrong. Take a cue from Apple here and try saying things like:

  • Fastest Mac yet
  • Best iPhone ever
  • The blank just got better

Those poke fun at your own products and by their very nature are likely true. Don’t force people to fact check your claim against your competitors products because doing so could end very badly.

Steve Jobs

By this point you maybe thinking that Steve Jobs breaks these rules all the time — you’d be incorrect. He rarely uses quantifiable statements, typically he uses very subjective statements — which by their very nature are hard to prove wrong or right.

Statements like:

  • It’s magical
  • It’ amazing
  • We think you will really like it

These are all bold statements, but they are all subjective and not quantifiable. You can’t determine if something isn’t amazing to someone, or quantify the amount of magic something contains. The last of the three is pretty self explanatory…

Conclusion

Stop making statements that can be proven wrong with facts, you will all look smarter for it.

Sincerely,

Ben Brooks

  1. There is a market effect when you have the leading product that consumers feel pressure to buy what their peers have. However to get to that point you have to succeed in the other areas to gain the critical early adopters. So yes, market share does work to sell devices, but only after you cross into the majority and are trying to gain more customers.
Originally posted for members on: May 23, 2011
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