Content Strategy

Marketing Too Well: Understanding the Marketing Hype

By Kyle Harper on June 26, 2017

Paris is a beautiful city . . . so I've been told.

From books and films, to history and fine art, to fashion shoots and wine, the story of Paris to the rest of the world is one of long-standing mystique, allure, and one-of-a-kind beauty. So you can imagine my surprise when, upon my first visit to the magical city, the first sight to greet me out of my taxi from Charles de Gaulle was a man in a full business suit relieving himself into a storm drain. It seemed there might be more marketing hype to Paris than I had originally thought.

Thankfully for me, this was a mild case of disappointment in comparison to what some experience. Arrival in the city can result in Paris syndrome, where the letdown of the reality of Paris actually leads to a transient state of mental psychosis, complete with hallucinations, delusional states, and other temporary symptoms.

While perhaps an extreme case, Paris tourism is a great example of a classic problem that marketers face when working on product marketing: how to promote your product during product launch without overselling to a point that damages your brand's reputation. Simply put, marketers are constantly seeking to manage their customers' "hype."

Defining Hype

While the idea of hype in general might seem somewhat self-evident to us, defining it can be a bit more difficult for some marketers. For our purposes, let's define hype as this:

The magnitude of difference between a customer's expectations for a product's value versus its realized value.

I love the word magnitude here, because it encapsulates a gamut of different scenarios that can sometimes catch marketers off guard. Is it more dangerous for your brand to have a lot of people sharing a little bit of over-hype, or for a small vocal group to be holding onto massively overblown expectations for your product? Likewise, is there a bigger payoff in hugely satisfying your vocal minority of die-hard audience members, or by somewhat satisfying a huge crowd of people?

The answers to these questions are particular from brand to brand, and even product to product within a company. But knowing how to manage this hype overall is a more general practice that is essential for content marketers today.

The Boring: Understanding Under-Hype

Starting at the bottom of the hype scale, we have under-hype. Under-hype is when your brand launches a product that isn't met with as much excitement at launch as estimated, either through projection or based on previous product launches.

This scenario freaks us out as marketers because it typically means we haven't done our jobs well, but it can happen to the best of us.

There are two primary reasons for under-hype. The first comes from taking a very conservative stance in your marketing where you make little to no promises about your product—if I know nothing about your product, then why should I be excited for the impact it's going to have on my life? Combatting under-hype comes down to finding creative ways to put more expectations in front of your audience earlier in the marketing cycle, and making these expectations a more consistent part of your overall marketing narrative from the start.

The second source of under-hype is external, and happens when your marketing or product bumps up against competition. If your marketing is difficult to distinguish from other ongoing campaigns in your industry or if the promises your product is making are already met by a competitor, then why should people feel hyped?

One of my favorite examples of confused marketing comes from Hollywood and the story of two movies in 2006: The Illusionist and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige. Here were two movies being marketed at the same time featuring turn-of-the-century magicians pursuing some kind of dark, cryptic escapade. The marketing for both was so similar that it resulted in some splitting of both movie's target audience, ultimately resulting in somewhat lower ticket sales than both movies had projected. Combatting cases like this requires marketers to examine their most unique attributes, and then to produce content that specifically highlights these differentiators clearly.

On the B2B side, we might look at something like the early years of Salesforce, a product that was positioned to disrupt the entire US business landscape, but initially suffered concerns about consistent functionality and a marketing campaign featuring a fighter jet and a biplane—clear sentiment, but not clear promises for the fledgling tech company. In this case, it might actually be strategic to be conservative about a product you don't have full confidence in at launch. But clear promises are absolutely required for success in building hype.

Woman lays head on edge of rooftop

Image attribution: Herman Sanchez

The Bombastic: Overcoming Over-Hype

At the other end of the scale, we have the all-too-familiar experience of over-hype. Over-hype is when a launched product doesn't meet the expectations of the marketing hype that went into its product marketing. A brand talked more than it could deliver.

Like under-hype, over-hype happens primarily for two reasons. The first lands on the marketers. Let's face it—we love to talk. A lot. And sometimes the results are some raised hopes and expectations.

Apple is an interesting, ongoing example. For years, Steve Job's tech giant was able to crank out new products and features on such a consistent schedule that hype became built into their conferences and announcements. If the story ended there, then Apple would be a perfect example of hype done right: high audience expectations met with consistent and increasingly growing value.

But following recent years of delayed product launches, slowing product innovation, and lackluster community support, even the most die-hard Apple fans have begun to turn on the iconic brand. With such a long history of good will with their sizable customer base, it will be interesting to see if Apple sees the writing on the wall and makes a change: either to step up their product side to meet expectations or by dialing back their marketing a bit to relieve the weight of expectation on their next launches. Without doing either of these, we'll likely see further erosion of Apple's brand trust.

The other source of over-hype is customer-centric, and occurs when your audience begins to set expectations for your product that you haven't set yourself. This is often due to unclear marketing and/or a lack of community engagement on your brand side.

We got to see a perfect case study in how this works in conjunction with brand over-promising with the product launch of No Man's Sky, a video game that went quickly from blockbusting excitement to community vitriol. Key in this downfall was unchecked community excitement, with thousands of posts across communities like Reddit speculating on features and promises that seemed to be suggested by the game's marketing. In situations like this, marketers need to not only make their marketing accurate but also listen to communities where speculation might foster product expectations your brand isn't prepared to meet.

Woman leads crowd holding a flare

Image attribution: Craig Dennis

Finding Your Brand's Sweet Spot

Given our over/under hype scale, your brand's sweet spot is going to land at whatever place in between allows your brand to set truthful expectations, stay engaged with community excitement and interaction, and then deliver consistently on these built expectations. This can be hard, because product features and positioning often shift during development that happens alongside marketing campaigns.

But this is where content marketers are able to excel while product marketers sometimes have trouble. By putting some focus on the experience of using your brand's product and by putting your product's reasonable promises into the context of a story that your audience can connect to, content marketers can create a load of authentic hype that doesn't rest solely on increasing promises. Good hype isn't about under-promising and over-delivering. It's about making only the promises you can keep, connecting them in a personable way with the experiences of your audience, and then delivering on them consistently over time.

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Featured image attribution: Jason Rosewell


Kyle Harper

Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?