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Tell the Whole Truth

At the risk of sharing too much, I recently went for a teeth cleaning and the dental hygienist took me to task for not doing as good a job as I should cleaning plaque.  

To help me do better, she recommended cocofloss and GUM proxabrush. Being a compliant patient, I purchased both products.  The proxabrush boldly printed the following on its label: 

Removes up to 25% more plaque.

My initial reaction when seeing the above claim is that I will be in great shape for next teeth cleaning. However, as I read the claim more carefully my initial optimism quickly faded. 

If the product removed 0% more plaque, that would still be up to 25% more plaque. These bold words promised nothing. 

Likewise the phrase removing up to 25% more plaque does not tell us what we are cleaning more than. I am hoping that any product will clean more than, let's say, chanting at the plaque. To give GUM some credit on the back of the package they claim their product cleans more plaques than conventional nylon filament. As I have no idea what conventional nylon filament is, this comparison did not clear up much.

I think as leaders we can learn a lesson from GUM. Use language clearly and meaningfully. Let your customer know what you are actually claiming (and make sure you can live up to your claims).

An area where unclear language infects most of our schools is cost. We often talk about the affordability of our product when for most families, it is unaffordable. Likewise, we tend not to be transparent that not every family will receive a grant that will cover their demonstrated need. We often lead families into believing their cost will be less than what we actually charge.  

To keep and attract customers they need to trust us. Communication is the way to build trust. Let’s make sure our communication is trustworthy. 


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