Crack Your Own Foundation

About 12 years ago, the school where I was teaching built a brand-new building.

Construction on our future home had been delayed for two weeks because of rain. Finally, the rain stopped and the big day arrived. A monster dump-truck-crane-thingy came and the concrete foundation was poured. Students and teachers watched in awe as the grey sludge oozed out of the chute and transformed a big dirty hole into a perfectly flat, perfectly smooth surface.

A few days later, when the concrete was dry, we watched in horror as the workers pushed some giant motorized pizza cutters all over the foundation, cracking it in a dozen different places. “What are you doing?” we demanded. “It was perfect!”

The workers were cracking the foundation because it was going to crack anyway. The concrete might have stayed together for a few months or even years, but at some point the earth below was going to shift. When that happened, woe to the building sitting on top of it.

So they cracked the foundation on purpose, exactly where they wanted to, before they started building. They let it settle into place – imperfect, yes, but much more stable and predictable than a perfect slab that eventually was going to let them down.

Ready for the journey to marketing metaphor-land?

Your Marketing Foundation

Your marketing foundation is all the good stuff you want people to believe about you. You always return phone calls within 18 minutes. All your clients retired to Sonoma County within two years of hiring you to handle their investments. You’ve never shipped a defective part in your life. One visit to your office and your client’s back pain is cured forever.

We spend a lot of time building this foundation. We work hard to provide the best products and services. We learn about our customers’ needs and adapt and grow to satisfy them. We maintain high standards and stand by our guarantees. And then, we get to reap the rewards of that excellence by telling the world how great we are.

Our prospects look at our smooth foundation and go, “Yeah, right!”

The Marketing Discount Rate

Every claim you make about your business, your service, and the results your prospects will enjoy gets discounted.

Whatever you say goes through the filter of their past experience. Every marketing claim that was ever overblown, untrue, or irrelevant sticks to you and makes them doubt you.

You say: “This air purifier will trap particles as small as one micron in diameter.”

Your prospect hears: “My cat could probably get through that thing.”

You say: “This is a stunning 10.0 megapixel digital camera that’s all about breathtaking performance and head-turning good looks.” (That’s straight from a well-known manufacturer’s press release. I kid you not.)

Your prospect hears: “This might take some good pictures until it breaks. I’d better pay an extra $120 for the three-year extended warranty. Oh, and the included memory chip will hold about eight pictures. I guess I need to buy a 2 GB high-speed memory card for another $200. And while I’m at it, I should get the $40 rechargeable battery. Of course, the case isn’t included either…”

And the minute you say something they truly disbelieve – like “Highest quality at the lowest price” – you’re a goner.

The Solution

The answer to this problem is to crack your own foundation. Make a damaging admission about your business up front. Tell the truth about something that puts you in a less than flattering light. Say something your prospect doesn’t expect you to say.

For example:

“This air purifier filters down to 1 micron. It will keep your air incredibly pure. The problem is, because the filter is so tight, the fan has to work extra hard. It’s a little noisier than some of the cheaper units out there.”

“This digital camera will take better pictures than just about any other camera. You see, we spent a lot of time developing software that interprets what the lens captures. Most other manufacturers just slap their regular lenses on digital cameras and don’t focus as much on the software. The tradeoff is that professional photographers may not like the fact that our camera does all the work. We’ve created it to be point-and-shoot. The photographer doesn’t get to control as many settings as with other cameras.”

“I help my clients build considerable wealth, but my system requires consistent disciplined investment over time. I don’t do well with clients who want to give me all the responsibility over their money. Realistically, there’s only so much I can do if they’re not going to budget and save on a regular basis.”

This marketing tactic has two very powerful effects.

1. Cracking your own foundation pre-empts doubt.

Remember the marketing discount rate? If you make an outrageous claim, you kick it to 100 percent. But if you say something negative, problematic, or unflattering about your business, you can lower the marketing discount rate to almost zero.

If you’d tell the truth about that, your prospect reasons, you’re probably telling the truth about the good stuff too.

Just like the construction workers at Princeton Friends School, you crack your foundation before forces outside of your control crack it for you.

2. Cracking your own foundation focuses your prospect on the negative you choose to highlight.

Notice that the negatives I gave as examples weren’t entirely negative. In fact, prospects are likely to interpret them as positives.

  • “The fan is noisier because the air purifier is more effective. That means quieter models must not be as effective.”
  • I’m not a professional photographer. I’m tired of taking pictures of people with red eyes and no feet. I don’t need to be able to twiddle the settings.”
  • “I don’t want to just give my money to someone and be done with it. Of course I want to keep saving and investing over time.”

Think of the damaging admission as a tool that helps your prospects qualify themselves. You’re saying, “Because of this problem, my product or service isn’t for everyone. You have to be willing to accept this tradeoff in order to be happy with it.”

How to Do It

To crack your foundation, start by making a list of all the features of your product or service. Next to each one, write an advantage and a disadvantage of that feature. Which disadvantages make the biggest advantages more believable? Where are the logical tradeoffs you can highlight?

The problem with so much marketing is that it contradicts what we know to be true about the world: Everything is a compromise. Faster means lower quality. More personalized attention means higher cost. Better sound systems take up more room. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

What you’re really doing with this marketing technique is explaining the tradeoff in a way that will attract the people who will get the most value from the big benefit of your product.

And in the process, you gain a lot of believability.

[Ed. Note: Howie Jacobson is an expert in using Google AdWords to create monster sales for your online business. You can master AdWords from the inside out with his book AdWords for Dummies. Get his complimentary report “Why Most AdWords Campaigns Fail – and How to Make Yours Succeed” at


Find out how Howie increased his income by five times – by accident – and how his unintentional good fortune can make YOU rich right here.]

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