Marketing Mayhem: Ready to Market – but Not Market Ready

Marketing Mayhem - The difference between market ready and ready to market

Marketing Mayhem: Today, we’re talking “market ready” products, or services, versus those that are “ready to market.” The difference may be subtle to some but there definitely is one.

Is your business engaged in deceptive/possibly illegal practices when marketing B2B or B2C products that aren’t really market ready? Choose your approach wisely as the line you walk may involve fraud, ethics, bodily injury or death. Sales and marketing professionals: pay close attention here.

In today’s competitive business climate, the first company to market stands to gain a substantial, strategic and financial advantage over their competitors. The “first to market wins” strategy isn’t guaranteed by any means, but the potential business and revenue windfall is substantial.

Enough so, to encourage companies to “jump the gun,” bringing products and services to market, often before they’re launch ready. However, being first to market doesn’t guarantee a win, just ask the Ford Motor Company.

Ford Was Ready to Market

Market products or services to businesses or consumers that arent't market ready can be deadly!
FORD: “Found-on-road-destroyed”

One of the most classic, examples of corporate white-collar crime involved the Ford Pinto.

Ford engineers were ordered to shorten the typical automobile production cycle from 43 months to 25 months. Thus, ensuring Pinto’s were available for dealers to sell in 1971.

Ford engineers knew there were dangerous problems with Pinto gas tanks prior to cars hitting showroom floors. But Ford President, Lee Iacocca was aggressively pushing (READ: ready to market) Ford’s new subcompact car to consumer’s.

Frankly, engineers didn’t want to get fired for raising red flags and delaying the Pinto’s product roadmap.

The Pinto issues should have been fixed in production to ensure cars were “market ready.” Estimated repairs would have cost Ford $11 per car or $137 million before the cars were ever released to the public.

Ford Wasn’t Market Ready

Diagram of a deadly car that was marketed to the public
Graphics Courtesy of Byron Bloch
www.autosafetyexpert.com

However, cars weren’t fixed because Ford was already heavily engaged in the marketing mayhem. Sales and marketing teams were touting Pinto’s as “market ready” without informing buyers of potential dangers.

Instead, Ford chose to fix cars in post-production. However, an estimated 500 deaths, hundreds of injuries (including serious burns), and fiery explosions occurred after the car’s public release.

An extreme example? Perhaps, but it underscores the point that being “ready to market” isn’t the same as being “market ready.” To some, this may seem like a subtle difference but in the Pinto case, the deceptive subtleties were deadly.

Were they also fraudulent?

  • Fraud is a deception

  • Which is deliberate

  • And relied upon

  • By the victim

  • To their disadvantage

Historically, we already know the answer to that question is “yes.” Ford’s corporate actions checked all the fraud boxes. Their purposeful omission was deceptive, deliberate, and relied upon, by the victim, to their ultimate disadvantage (death).

Where’s Christie Brinkley?

Christie Brinkley - marketing the classic Ferrari automobile
The Girl in the Ferrari

When growing up in Southern California, my parent’s owned a large, gas guzzling, 9 seat, V8, Ford Country Squire station wagon. Who didn’t? At the time, station wagons were the vehicle of choice for shuttling your family around. Today, everyone with kids buys minivans.

For fans of National Lampoon’s (1983) comedy classic “Vacation,” starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, Ford’s Country Squire station wagon is the frame that the infamous “Wagon Queen Family Truckster” was built on.

The Griswold’s drove from Chicago to California to visit “Walley World” (aka Six Flags Magic Mountain). Our family pulled the opposite move, driving the Country Squire from California to Ohio to visit the grandparents. Very comfortable but we never saw Christie Brinkley driving a red Ferarri once!

In the early 1970s, the gas shortage hit. My parents, like most Americans, got caught up in the marketing mayhem associated with getting better gas mileage. So, off they went looking for something more fuel efficient. A slick Ford salesman in San Diego (Not Vacation’s, Eugene, “You think you hate it now…wait till you drive it,” Levy) suckered them into trading in the land yacht for a gutless, 4 cylinder (powered by hamsters), Pinto wagon. A car buying mistake they’ve regretted ever since.

Fortunately, for us, we didn’t burn, explode or die in the Pinto. However, the car’s gear shift (which was an automatic) once mysteriously slid into reverse, without being touched, while going 45mph. The transmission should have fallen out right then and there but it was built so poorly that it wouldn’t even fall apart correctly.

Daily Business Deceptions

Global marketing deception is common place
Products in one foreign country don’t translate to availability in a different one.

Less deadly, but equally deceptive, global product and service marketing mayhem misrepresentations occur in business every day.

Take for example multinational, corporations with independent, but separate, business entities operating on all continents.

It’s not uncommon for one division to deploy products in their region that aren’t commercially available in other business units around the world.

Yet, marketing teams in other regions know the products exist and are “ready to market” them because they’ve forecasted local customer demand. The problem is that they absolutely don’t have “market ready” products available to them.

Despite that, regional management, intent on driving product revenue adds to the marketing mayhem, greenlighting Marketing to produce customer-facing collateral, product sheets and website resources featuring these products for distribution to potential buyer’s. The misleading material suggests products are currently available when management knows they aren’t. Anyone else, see the problem here?

Got Fraud?

Do these marketing and sales misrepresentations rise to the level of fraud? Certainly, in the hypothetical situation described, there was deliberate product capability deception which was initially relied upon by potential buyers.

More than likely, however, after conducting more in-depth due diligence, customers saw beyond the initial marketing hype and came to the realization that the product didn’t actually exist before committing to large-scale, big dollar deals. Thus, avoiding being duped, financially “disadvantaged” and defrauded.

This type of example may not be deadly, as was the Ford case, However, it happens regularly and is a deceptive, disreputable business practice. Especially, if the company knows they have no product immediately available in their region, or in development, for customers to purchase. There’s a difference in the following marketing and sales phrases:

Three key marketing phrases. One is intentionally fraudulent
Marketing a product that you don’t have and can’t get is deceptive
  1. We have a product or service in development that (customer) may be interested in upon release. This is a great opportunity to generate “buzz” for pipeline projects.

  2. We’ve deployed a product or service in another region but it currently isn’t available in this region. Straightforward, honest product response for the customer. The release will be (insert date). We’ll follow up with you at that time.

  3. We have a product or service which is commercially available for you right now. If true… great. If not, making deceptive, misleading representations that your company can’t immediately fulfill (not market ready) only goes downhill from there.

Representing to customers that your company has a product or feature available locally when its only been deployed abroad, or in a separate division, is patently false and deceptive. The reality is that customers really don’t care what companies have done elsewhere if it hasn’t successfully been done in their own country with known industry players they can talk to and get references from.

Beyond that, most customers want companies to learn on their own product development dime and have no interest in being the company’s “we’re now deploying it here for the first time” guinea pig.

The Bottom Line

Business, like car racing, is extremely competitive. Despite the drive to get to market 1st, or obtain significant industry positioning, marketing departments must be careful not to blur the lines between acceptable, ethical, product promotion and outright deception. Remember, no matter how you do it, stretching the truth is still a lie.

There’s a big difference between the legitimate promotion of market-ready products and services, which are commercially available in your region right now, and the exaggerated promotion of those on the drawing board, in development, or which don’t actually exist at all.

Marketing strategies associated with the latter may not only be fraudulent but felonious. Beware of marketing mayhem. Remember, the race to the marketing finish line isn’t always won by the driver who crosses first.

See our last blog, 5 Reasons Why Enterprise Fraud Risk Management Programs Tank @fraudsolutions.com

About Dan Draz

Dan Draz - Fraud Consultant, Subject Matter Expert, Global Throught Leader
Fraud Consultant

Dan Draz is a fraud risk management consultant, keynote speaker, industry trainer and published author. Draz is an often-quoted fraud and investigations expert in industry, trade, online and news publications. Draz is the principal of Chicago-based Fraud Solutions, and consults with clients across industry verticals, providing enterprise fraud risk management consulting, GRC strategies and ethics assessments and training. He has a Masters in Economic Crime Management, is a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), a Fellow at the Governance and Accountability Institute and a 2018 “Top Thought Leader in Trust” recipient. He writes and records unique business and consumer multimedia public awareness material under the name of “Detective Dan.” For more information: info@fraudsolutions.com.