Proof train car #4: the mechanism

🎵🎵 I hear the train a comin’
It’s rollin’ ’round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine
Since, I don’t know when
I’m stuck in Folsom Prison
And time keeps draggin’ on
But that train keeps a-rollin’
On down to San Antone
— “Folsom Prison Blues”, by Johnny Cash

Today we’re moving on to car #4 in the “proof train”. This proof element involves explaining why your specific approach is superior to others. You may also explain how your approach will deliver great results.

If you’re claiming to get predictably above average results for your clients, you must have some special way of doing that, right? That’s why you would want to explain why your approach is better and how it works to achieve your claimed results. It provides proof that your claim is credible.

In scummy internet marketing circles this is known as “explaining the mechanism”. The term comes from a book by Eugene Schwartz called Breakthrough Advertising in which Schwartz describes the various ways you might use an “explanation of the mechanism by which your product works” to market that product.

For example, if someone told you that a CMOS camera sensor produces an image that’s way better than a CCD sensor, that would be a claim with no proof. If they went on to explain the mechanism by which a CMOS camera sensor produces a superior result, they would have provided at least some proof of their claim.

Of course, you want to use more than one proof element to support your claim, and you want to combine proof elements where you can.

So our CMOS sensor advocate might want to also demonstrate the superior results of the CMOS sensor, provide a guarantee (“better pictures than your old CCD-sensor camera or your money back”), and provide social proof (“these National Geographic and Sports Illustrated photographers have switched to CMOS cameras”).

Pretty simple stuff, right?

Here’s where it gets more tricky. There’s a hierarchy of effectiveness when it comes to mechanisms. From least to most effective, it goes something like this:

  1. Our “secret sauce” is our people/culture/passion: This often comes out in the form of marketing copy that could be simplified down to: “We care more.” I know this kind of message almost always comes from a very sincere place, but from a marketing perspective, it’s ineffective bullshit. Everybody defaults to this using this mechanism if they don’t actually have some unique approach to producing superior results, and your clients know it. The agency that just burned through $50k of your prospective client’s money without producing any tangible result said “we care more”. I’m not at all saying that having the right people on a project doesn’t matter. It certainly does! But from a marketing perspective, it’s an over-used, weak mechanism to rely on if you’re trying to support a bold claim.
  2. Our “secret sauce” is our process: This is a step better than using your people/culture/passion as a proof element because it’s easier to actually explain how your process helps deliver the results you claim, but at the same time this is still a relatively weak mechanism to rely on because 1) every freelancer, agency, or firm that didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday has a process of some kind 2) everybody’s processes tend to look so similar! In other words, good process tends to be more about following widespread best practices and less about something that’s truly unique to your business. But if you do have a truly unique process, by all means do use that as a proof element!
  3. Our “secret sauce” is proprietary or branded intellectual property: This is the most effective mechanism you can have. If your superior results are created by some unique research, insight, know-how, or data that you have formalized into a repeatable system for achieving great results, then you have the makings of a powerful mechanism that you can use as a powerful proof element. When I say proprietary IP, I don’t mean it has to be secret. Publishing it widely with your name attached (ex: can be very beneficial indeed. If it took substantial work to produce the IP, the chances are low that anyone else could steal it or effectively replicate your results.

A few quick caveats before I wrap this up.

I have a client who uses #1 on the list above. But… and this is a big BUT… they have numbers to back it up. Numbers that demonstrate that their staff turnover rate is a tiny fraction of what’s common in the industry. Those numbers demonstrate how much less likely it is for staff turnover to disrupt a client project. This makes #1 a much stronger proof mechanism for them.

This is less of a caveat and more of an amplification of point #3: I have a different client who has a mind-blowing piece of IP. It’s a sophisticated strategy framework for using marketing to support business growth. If you draw it out it looks very simple, but I could not understand it at all until my client explained it to me. After he did, I now see everything in a different light. That’s why I say that even if you widely share your proprietary IP, it is very unlikely that anyone else will understand it well enough to really use it in the way you do.

And so I want to challenge you to move your business towards #3 on the list above (if you aren’t already there). It makes everything in your marketing easier and better if you have proprietary IP that serves as a powerful proof element.

Want help with your marketing? Check out:

That train keeps a-rollin’. In the next email we’ll talk about why size matters in your proof elements,

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