Secrets as a Marketing Tactic

 I was flying home from Europe from a business trip and saw something interesting in a magazine.  There was a small ad for Pimm’s Cup. It was an alcoholic beverage I was vaguely aware of but had never tasted. 

What struck me was the copy:

Pimm’s No. 1 is made to the original recipe which remains a closely-guarded secret, known only to six of Pimm’s top people called ‘the secret six’.

It got me curious. Now I really wanted to taste this product that only six people knew how to make.

When my wife and I had our bakery business, our secret recipe was probably known by about six people who helped bake the brownies. We were constantly asked to share the recipes and I remember saying that I could give you the recipes but without my wife, you'd wouldn't have Rachel's Brownies. Yet the illusive recipe did play a key part of our story. 

 In my Slim Jim days, we had roughly six people in the company who also knew that formula. (not me) We even had suppliers who only had part of the seasoning blend so that no outsider could know the formulation. It was a guarded secret that we used in our marketing to explain that our product was like no other snack. 

A secret can be a powerful marketing message because it helps to reinforce the idea that your product is so unique that it can be duplicated. 

I imagine the Google algorithms have only a limited number of Googlers who know how their secret formula works. Those algorithms are probably some of the world's most valuable secrets today. 

In the age of transparency in marketing, secrets are a powerful tool to allow you get some distance between your product offerings and others in your category. Handled properly, you can find creative ways to talk about this ‘black box’ filled with wonder and amazement. In some respects, a secret formula can be like a placebo where there is a belief that is amplified beyond the rationale.

Marketers use secrets to help create some mystery about a brand and a wonderful story to perpetuate its importance. 

If the KFC fried chicken recipe or a the Big Mac sauce recipe was revealed, most people would be shocked at its ordinariness. In fact, I’d wager that it is probably remarkably similar to other similar products available. Yet in the consumers mind, the secret sauce is one of a kind.

Coke loves to talk about how it recipe is the most guarded secret in the world. 

This plays into the notion that a secret that special must make the product better than all of its competitors.  The mystery is magnetic in attracting the attention and imagination of the public although it isn't enough to overcome the slumping carbonated soft drink category. The coke recipe was put on paper over 100 years ago and they allege that only two senior executives know its content. It is kept behind a Fort Knox-like vault.

CEO Muhtar Kent wtih the Coca-Cola Secret Recipe 
Do you use a secret process or ingredient or material in what you sell? Have you used the power of the secret to separate what you sell from the competition? If not, maybe you are missing a valuable way to market your brand that could help you expand your base of business.

Four Secret Thought Starters

  1. Can you talk about a secret element of your product that reinforces your brand story? 
  2. Do you have a proprietary way you do business that qualifies as a trade secret and can be communicated as a part of what makes your company different? 
  3. Is there a manufacturing approach that only your business follows within your industry that can be positioned as somewhat mysterious? 
  4. Are you using any special procedure to protect the business secrets that can also be used in your marketing communications? 

As Paul and John famously teased, "Listen, do you want to know a secret?" 

Jeffrey Slater

Are you looking for a marketing coach or mentor? You can hire me by the moment - well by the minute through to consult with your company. Check out the details here

I donate 100% of my fee to Charity: Water who helps serve communities that need clean water. 

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,