The Power of Proof
By Robert W. Bly

I've noticed a dangerous trend in business-to-business marketing: a lack of proof in the copy for product claims made in advertising.

In the IT marketplace, for example, the most pervasive marketing document is the white paper. Many white papers are great at explaining how products work. But because they are educational, and not sales oriented, they do not bother to prove the performance claims made.

Don't make this mistake in your business-to-business marketing communications. When you say your product is the fastest or most reliable, prospects are instantly skeptical, because everybody claims the same thing.

All product claims in marketing copy and content should be backed by proof. Here are some ways to convince wary buyers that what you say is in fact true:

1-Comparisons. Comparison - showing how your product is different and better than others - engages the reader's attention. You can do a before-and-after comparison showing the change before and after the product was used; e.g., the dirty wastewater discharge vs. the clean water that has been treated with your filtration cartridge. You can also do a side-by-side comparison showing how your product outperforms the competition.

A very effective technique is to have a table listing all the features that your category of product could have. One column shows your product with a YES or checkmark indicating you have all the features. The other columns have competitor products with only a few checkmarks and the majority of spaces left blank or marked NO to indicate that they are lacking the feature.

2-Tests. An extremely compelling way to prove performance is to allow the customer to test your product, especially on their premises. For instance, a pelletizer is a machine that presses powdered material into pellets. The main question is how well the pelletizer will work with the customer's material. Mars Mineral solves this problem, telling potential buyers, We'll be glad to take a look at a random 5 gallon sample of your material. We'll evaluate it and get back to you with our equipment recommendations. From there we can do an exploratory pelletizing test, a full day's test run, or rent you a production machine with an option to purchase.

3-Samples. Let the prospect sample your product. This is an old tactic. Eateries in shopping mall food courts often have a person standing in front of the counter with a tray of free samples of one of their dishes, whether Chinese food or chicken nuggets. Tempur-Pedic offers a free kit in its commercials; the kid includes a sample of their mattress material. By squeezing and pressing it, you can prove to yourself their claim that the mattress material comfortably fits the contour of your body.

One company manufactures mist eliminators, which remove entrained liquids in gases exiting an industrial smoke stack. Their mist eliminator is a wire mesh that bends and twists much like a Slinky. In a direct mail campaign, they mailed small samples of wire mesh to process engineers. The sales letter was printed on off-white card stock and affixed to the wire mesh so it looked like a shipping label.

4-Visualization. When prospects can see how something works, they are more inclined to believe that it does work. The mist eliminator company described above also made trays that enhanced efficiency in distillation towers. Part of what takes place is the liquid rises through capped holes in the tray and bubbles on its surface.

Normally distillation towers are made from brick or metal, so you cannot see the trays operate. For their trade show booth, the company made a simple model of a distillation tower out of Plexiglas so process engineers visiting the booth could see the bubbling action.

Gore-Tex manufactures (among other things) a putty-like sealant that is used to prevent leakage piping connections. The front cover of their sales brochure showed a picture of a pipe flange. Attached to the flange was an actual sample of the Gore-Tex sealant. Not only could prospects visualize how to apply it properly, but they could also remove it from the brochure to touch, feel, and play with.

5-Dramatization. Years ago, to promote sales of its disaster recovery systems and services, U.S. West mailed an audio cassette to telecommunications managers. When the recipient played the cassette, they heard the background noise of a busy telecom center. Then suddenly, the CD went blank and the noise disappeared. A voice-over narrator said, This is the sound of a telecommunications disaster waiting to happen. They dramatized the danger in a meaningful way without actually cutting off the prospect's telecom system.

6-Description. A manufacturer of digital switches for wireless networks wanted to convince telecom managers that their switch was highly reliable. Here is what they wrote in their product brochure: The XYZ Switch is one of the most reliable digital switches available for wireless systems today. According to the FCC's ARMIS report, the XYZ switch has the least down-time of any switch used in U.S. networks, exceeding Bellcore's reliability standards by 200%. With an installed base of more than 2,300 switches, the XYZ switch currently serves over 72 million lines in 49 countries.

7-Demonstration. We know from all those direct response TV advertisers for cleaning products that demonstration work. And they work in B2B, too.

My favorite ad of all time was from a company manufacturing a fireproofing compound. The ad was printed on paper treated with the compound, bound into the magazine, and had a coupon for requesting a brochure. The headline of the ad was, Try Burning This Coupon! The cop told the reader to remove the ad from the magazine, and hold a lighted match to it. The paper burned as long as the match was there. But when the match was removed, the flame went out.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at, or e-mail him at, or phone 201-385-1220.