My Number is Bigger than Yours

A short rant about lying to customers.

I promise you this is not another article about Businessweek’s sensationalism, Kevin Rose’s net worth, whether or not Netscape is desperate, or the size of 37signal’s customer base.

This is a short rant about lying to customers.

Companies lie to their customers all the time. They lie when they say that their customers come first. (their investors do) They lie when they say it isn’t about the money. (it always is) They lie when they say that they have so many users. (they never do) They lie when they say they’re worth so much money. (they never are)

So why do companies do this? Why are they so willing to risk the relationship with the people who help them live their for-profit lives?

Because they need to in order to justify it all. They need to tell themselves this story so that they can go home at night and sleep well. So they can hold to the consistent story that their deep-seated desire isn’t to sleep in piles of crisp $100 bills.

Because that’s the game they’re playing. That’s what everyone else in business does, and that’s what companies need to do to set themselves apart. If we say our #1 concern is our customers, they’ll believe us because they want to believe us.

Because customers don’t hold them accountable. They don’t ask the hard questions. They don’t make sure that companies tell them the truth in all that they do. Because they’re too busy leading their lives to care about what companies are really doing.

Seth Godin wrote a great book called “All Marketers are Liars”. He wasn’t really saying that all marketers are liars. He meant that all customers believe what they want to believe, and marketers can take advantage of that. He says:

“Successful marketers don’t tell the truth. They don’t talk about features or even benefits. Instead, they tell a story. A story we want to believe.”

That’s what’s going on here. Saying something doesn’t make it true. Never has, never will. But truth is hardly the point here. The story is the point.

And, as it’s a story, you can fool some of the people some of the time…but the people who aren’t fooled are the ones who you never hear from. They’re the silent ones. The ones who read this stuff, shake their head, and move on. The ones who (unlike me – apparently) know that posts like this do very little to stem the onslaught of false marketing and outright lying by the for-profit companies in the land.

Published: August 4th, 2006