…We didn’t have an ice cream…

I’m doing the first phase research for the REPAMA study into cloud computing and I’m spending my time wading through lots of communication from many small, start-up companies.

And in doing so I was reminded of the ‘parable’ about the child and the ice cream…you know the story. It goes something like this.

A mother and her six year old daughter are out shopping and as a treat for her well-behaved daughter, the mother buys her an ice cream. But the mother is worried that her daughter’s elder brother, who is at home, will be jealous that his sister got an ice cream but he didn’t.

So the mother says…

When we get home, don’t tell your brother that we had an ice cream.

The daughter agrees to the subterfuge. But when the she gets home, what’s the first thing she says to her brother?

We didn’t have an ice cream.

Doh! And now the brother ‘knows’ that his mother and sister have had ice creams and they didn’t buy him one.

The problem is that to the six year old girl…

Don’t tell your brother that we had an ice cream

and

Tell your brother we didn’t have an ice cream

…seem pretty much commutative. The lesson? If you want your child to avoid talking about a subject, avoid the subject. And so it is with marketing. A general rule – if you want to keep something potentially negative from your prospects, avoid the subject. Alternatively, be upfront and tell it like it is.

So in looking at early market software vendors, it’s like someone told them “Don’t give away how small your company is”. So being desperate to hide the fact that they are really 3 men and a dog in a garage in Boston, instead of ignoring their size in their outbound communication they try to spin and exaggerate their company size. Large companies tend not to mention their size all of the time. They’re comfortable with it so they leave it as unsaid. But smaller organisations try to talk their size up and this simply comes across as “We are a tiny company in a garage in Boston and we’re trying to appear bigger. Oh and did I mention we also have a dog?”.

If you’re small revel in it. It means you can do many things that other vendors can’t. You’ll get found out at some point in the sales process anyway. Someone will have to assess the risk of doing business with you and if you don’t pass that test, then you’re unlikely to get the deal. It doesn’t matter which prestigious building’s 19th floor washroom you’ve set up office in. Neither does it matter that you’ve just opened your second sales office in Nowheresville and that this is evidence of your continued expansion plans – even though Nowheresville is the home town of the CTO and has a population of 247.

Prove you can do what you claim and make sure that what you claim you can do is important to your target customer. The rest will take care of itself. Don’t tell your prospects that you didn’t have an ice cream, and whatever you do, don’t put on a pair of Cuban heels.

Danny Goodall

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