Tuesday in Bethesda (the 17th coolest city in America!) is BBQ food truck day. This week's trip served up a tasty pulled chicken sandwich and also a side order of inspiration for today's blog. Get a load of the sign on the side of the truck, and in particular to the product claim at the very bottom. Here's a guy (or a brand, take your pick) who has a sense of humor about product claims and understands their limitations.
It's almost a consumer requirement to have a sense of humor about product claims, as most are funnier than they are intended to be. If you watched the Tour on TV, you know doubt know which bicycle is "The Best Bicycle in the World." And if you read the trades leading up to the cobbled classics, you may have read the claim that a new endurance road bike was "40% more comfortable" than the road racing model from the same brand.
The problem I have with product claims is that they usually harvest customer trust instead of grow it. Brands work hard (or spend heavily) to stockpile enough credibility to allow them to take some shortcuts in communicating certain product attributes. When you make the claim that these wheels will save you 30 seconds in a 40K TT, what most brands really mean is that they manufactured an environment in a wind tunnel where the data shows the wheels do in fact save that much time but only compared to a TT ridden precisely at 30mph under constant power and on 32-spoke box rims with a steady 7.5mph wind at a 15 degree yaw angle. The whole truth is more complex, so marketing shorthand is employed.
Most product claims in the bicycle business are quantitative, or at least begin that way. Wind tunnel, stiffness and wheel inertia testing generate a lot of data, and if you're orchestrating these tests there is ample opportunity to develop protocols or comparisons that allow your specific product to shine. It's also not difficult to find a modest baseline which can grossly misrepresent actual performance (the title of this blog is an example, as is the ridiculous Forbes article linked in the first paragraph).
Dave and I are spending a lot of time talking about product claims because we'll soon be running some quantitative tests of our own. But our conundrum is not how we'll make our stuff look the fastest, stiffest, awesomest or otherwise mostest. Rather, we're trying to figure out how to communicate the results transparently and even-handedly, avoiding shorthand but not getting too much in the weeds of detail that the results themselves disappear. We want to educate our customers of the process as much as the results, and incorporate enough context and perspective so you see what we see, not just what we want you to see.
Put another way, we want our claims to build customer trust in our brand, not take advantage of it. I have to add another sentence to this paragraph or Dave will skewer me as a 1-sentence paragraph hack.
So I did.