When hype can go overboard and hurt credibility

SageCircle on the danger of vendors overhyping

Updated September 9, 2008 — In response to a tweet, a number of analysts have left new comments about specific types of marketing language that vendors should avoid.

Updated September 10, 2008 — Compiled a list of terms to avoid. Look for them after the “Bottom Line.”

While the US Federal Trade Commission in the Lanham Act said that puffery is “harmless exaggeration or colorful hype” and is not prosecutable as false advertising, too much hype can severely damage a vendor’s credibility. This was reinforced the other day when I participated in a Twitter conversation (right, click to enlarge).

Redmonk’s James Governor (“Monkchips”) in response to a marketing statement by a vendor about its product said “sorry but a. how can i take the statement seriously,. and b. what does it have to do with customer value?” Later another analyst, Jon Collins of Freeform Dynamics (jonno), joined in with the scathing “don’t think (products’) scalability issues are totally behind them either, a minor inconvenience to marchitects ;)”. While you might dismiss this because it is happening on Twitter, think again.

  • This Twitter chat represents the visible tip of the iceberg. Think about how many other chances these analysts have to convey this opinion to the press, other analysts, IT managers and the like?
  • Reporters are starting to follow analysts’ micro-blogging like Twitter so this can become a PR problem as well.
  • Don’t assume that “nobody is following Tweeting analysts” because their followings can be quite large (e.g., Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang has over 3,300 followers with new ones everyday).

However, the focus of this post is not on Twitter but on the issue of hype. SageCircle has identified hype as one of the five “analyst hot button” issues that can needlessly derail a vendor-analyst briefing. The big problem is that analysts really listen to marketing language and don’t blow off some puffery like a prospect would. So claiming superiority or asserting that your product is “Best in Class” can be a red flag if the claim does not match the analyst’s view of the market. What happens next is rarely good for the vendor representatives doing the briefing. The analyst might interrupt the briefing probing for a definition of what it really means to be “the leaders” or “world class” or whatever and then demand hard evidence that the vendor really meets the criteria. Then the briefing could be consumed on what is really a tangential discussion. Or the analyst could sit quietly with a smirk on his or her face while thinking “What a load of BS, I bet everything they are saying is BS.” The second outcome is worse because it implies long term damage to credibility and may go unnoticed.

The analysts react in these fashions not because of evil cynicism, but because their jobs are to figure out what is happening in markets and to help IT buyers manage the risk surrounding technology services and products purchases. Hype backed up by facts could indicate a shift in the vendor landscape. Hype that nothing but exaggeration could be a risk for tech buyers. As consequence, AR teams have to be very careful that the claims of their spokespeople do not stray in to the overheated hype territory.

SageCircle Technique:

  • Examine presentation content and talk tracks looking for hype
  • Determine if the claims have reasonable definitions (e.g., not something like “among left hand users on Guam”)
  • Determine if the claims can be backed up with proof aligned with the definitions and have that proof available if needed
  • Tone down or (best) eliminate hype that can’t be substantiated

Bottom Line: Hype is a major hot button that can send a briefing off on a tangent or, worse, cause relationship damage if the spokesperson or analyst thinks the other side is being unfair. Often the same idea can be expressed without using language that is a red flag to analysts.

Analyst ‘hype-alert’ verbiage from analysts and others:

  • “First”
  • “Game changer”
  • “Only”
  • Superiority
    • “Best in class”
    • “World class”
  • “The Leader” and related…
    • “Industry leading”
    • “Market leading”
    • “We always beat <a market leader>”
  • “Top tier”
  • “We have no competitors” and related…
    • “Our only competition is in-house development”
    • “Only indirect competitors are enterprise home-grown applications”
    • “We never see <a market leader>”
  • “We’ve open sourced our code”
  • Vendors plotting themselves in upper-right quadrant of SOME 2X2 grid no matter how flimsy

I like IDC’s Bill Peterson characterizing this language as “breathless marketing.”


Analysts – What are the key words that alert you that the vendor is hyping their capabilities or accomplishments? Are there other reasons why you think that hype is a poor tactic to use with analysts?

Do your executives indulge in using language bordering on hype? SageCircle can help. Our strategists can:

  • Educate executives and domain experts via the Spokesperson Best Practices webinar or individual conversations via Advisory Service inquiry about the dangers of hype, how to recognize it and eliminate it without crippling the ability to communicate
  • Critique presentations via Advisory Service inquiry or Presentation Critique Mini-workshop to ensure that they do not have hype
  • Coach briefing participates in practice sessions via Advisory Service inquiry or Presentation Critique Mini-workshop

To learn more contact us at info [at] sagecircle dot com or 650-274-8309.

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