Manufacturers’ claims aren’t worth much – until they’re independently evaluated

Manufacturers’ claims aren’t worth much – until they’re independently evaluated

Believe it or not, some vendors only want to tell you all the wonderful things their widgets can do, while omitting all the bad things. You might call it hubris… or, as we like to call it at the Lab: ‘marketing’.

Strange thing that marketing engine: it’s fuelled by slippery feature-benefit claims but grinds its gears on sticking points.

It’s part of our job at Enex TestLab to find those sticking points. But we don’t just report the bad news: we’re also very good at providing independent proof of product claims that are true.

Honestly, if vendors invested sufficiently in the design, execution and quality of their products, there really is nothing for them to be that concerned about.

30-plus years of tried and true testing

We’ve been applying the scientific method to test and validate manufacturers’ claims about their products since those heady days of the late-1980s when the lab was founded within RMIT University.

And we’ve gleaned some very interesting insights over the years.

The first observation from our experience is that if there wasn’t a market for completely neutral, independent, rigorous testing, evaluation and reporting services then we would have gone out of business a long time ago.

Our business continues to grow because more organisations need to ensure they are getting value for money – and their leaders are increasingly scrutinised for the decisions they make.

Most of our clients are Government Departments and Agencies, and we’re often engaged up front during the procurement process to help them make decisions about the products being tendered.

Our robust and independent testing methodologies ultimately help organisations choose products that are fit for purpose. We often compare products with others in their market, and in many cases, we’ll run compatibility testing with other products already deployed. This is important, because value for money on the ticket price can quickly become irrelevant if you have to spend a fortune getting a whole lot of technologies working together.

The second observation is that vendors who engage Enex TestLab directly before they take a product to market are much better placed to respond to customer questions in the real world. That’s because we ask these questions ourselves and then find the answers through independent testing as part of the R&D process or post-production. Bizarrely, we’ll often find these questions hadn’t been raised in a vendor’s echo chamber of praise for a product, because they’ve been too focused on what works for them – rather than what customers experience in the real world.

These vendors know that just because they pay us to evaluate their products doesn’t mean they are going to get a big bright green tick. In fact, if any vendor achieved that then they should be shouting it from the rooftops.

The third observation is related: generally, the first team inside a vendor to get Enex TestLab involved is the product team. Actually, this isn’t surprising because when you look at it, they are the meat in a crust-heavy sandwich between management and marketing, with a layer of engineering butter.

The product team usually wants to know three things about a product or widget:

  1. How well does it stand up to claims made about it?
  2. Is there anything else it does well that hasn’t been identified yet – and if so, what claims could be made about it?
  3. What are its weaknesses, particularly in areas where claims might be made about its performance? Knowing those weaknesses early can help the product team make improvements before the product goes to market.

Our job is to answer these questions truthfully. It’s then the job of the product team to ‘sell’ the need for any changes into the engineering, management and marketing teams.

Now, depending on where the product is at in the development lifecycle, the product team can suggest to engineering (as politely as possible) where some tweaks can be made to deliver maximum pros and minimum cons.

Those tweaks might push the budget and delivery time out, so the product team needs a solid argument to get management buy-in.

We’ve found that when Enex TestLab is brought in early for product testing, the test results not only reveal insights to help improve the product – they can also save development time and cost by identifying issues before they become costly.

Finally, after improvements have been made to a product, and its best features and benefits proven through testing, the product team will be well-armed with knowledge of what is truly good and noteworthy about the product that they can ‘sell’ to marketing.

In a perfect world, every product would be thoroughly and independently tested before any claims were made about it, and those claims validated before the product hits the market.
Thankfully, at least some products are put through quality testing and then go on to outperform competitors’ offerings in the market. We live for those success stories.

It’s worth testing a product thoroughly before making any claims about it

This isn’t a subtle suggestion: intensively testing a widget during the development lifecycle can significantly improve its chances of commercial success.

You’ll find out what it does well, which will help you sell it. You’ll save time by discovering issues early. And (hopefully) you’ll fix them before they become insanely costly.

Even better, when your widget is ready to be promoted in the market, you’ll get every claim you want to make validated by an independent test first. While you’re at it, you may as well get your product independently tested against its competitors so you can gain an edge.

So why wouldn’t you?

Well funnily enough, sometimes when Enex TestLab is first engaged by one team in an organisation, all the others might be scared by the spectre of a dreaded independent test.

Some people just don’t want a bunch of testing officers prodding and poking at their new baby widget… in case, well, what if it breaks?

And then it gradually dawns on everyone up and down the hierarchy that the independent test can actually deliver value for their spend:

  • Management finds out if the widget actually does what the product, marketing and engineering teams claim it does. This shouldn’t be a surprise because hey, that’s pretty much what customers want to know too, and having those claims independently confirmed justifies the investment. Plus, if anything needs fixing before customers get their hands on the product, management really needs to know about it to help them make decisions about extra budgets and timeframes. You’re better off having an independent test pick up any issues before customers – or worse, the media – discover it in the market and start spouting off all over the internet. Keep it internal, get it fixed, re-tested and ticked off, and everyone is a happy camper.

 

  • Engineering finds out what needs fixing or improving before it hits the market. Of course, they might be resistant for a while, because the widget is their baby. They’ve poured their blood, sweat and tears into crafting this thing of beauty and woe betide anyone who would even dare to look at it sideways, let alone breath on it. Normally once the engineering team realises we know what we’re doing at Enex TestLab and that our testers will humbly admit they’re not the experts on that particular baby widget and its needs, then they warm to us. If a testing officer breathes on widget and it catches fire, it’s better that happens to us than a customer. It’s OK, we can handle it. We’ve also found engineers really love having our help in translating engineering speak to management, product and marketing speak so they get the backing they need to make a product better.

 

  • Marketing finds out which claims will stand up in public – and maybe even gain some new ‘proof’ of a product’s worthiness. Marketing teams (including PR and promotions) are generally tasked with promoting the good and burying the bad. This is where the independent reports, if they are mostly good, come into their own. Customers figure vendors are only ever going to make claims about the good features and benefits of a product, but the credibility of those claims will cut through if the customer sees a reputable testing laboratory was engaged to test them. Even better still, if that widget has some exceptional attributes proven through independent testing, then some marketing teams will choose to publish the independent report lock stock and barrel. (Note that vendors can’t just cherry pick from independent reports – any extracts used in marketing need to link to the full report to ensure credibility.)

 

Want to know where you can stick our independent reports?

We are not a publishing house: the reports Enex TestLab produces are owned by our clients. So it us up to our clients to choose to release or publish the test reports, or not.
While we’re sometimes the bearers of bad news, we hope that if a widget is found to be less-than-great, then the vendor would rectify any deficiencies before releasing it to the market. After all, it’s the vendor’s reputation carried on that product.


So the bottom line is, here’s what you can do with our reports:

  • If you are in management at a widget company, independent testing can ensure your investment has been justified and the teams have delivered what was asked, or better. Our reports can help validate your decisions to your boards and investors.
  • If you are in the product team, independent testing can ensure you have credible information to pass up and down the chain which eases communications with management, engineering and marketing.
  • If you are in engineering, independent testing is your friend. We’re not here to hurt your baby widget and often we can be the buffer between you and the outside world, letting you focus on creating great products. Our reports can help back up your requests for more time and budget to deliver better outcomes all round – for you, the business, and the customers.
  • If you are in marketing, we can help you identify the best claims you might want to take to the market and independently validate them. Our reports can help you deliver trust in a product to the customer.
  • If you are a prospective client, we can help you verify (or dismiss) vendors’ claims through independent testing before you invest huge amounts of money in a fleet of widgets.


Big picture: any organisation that makes the leap of faith to engage independent testing, evaluation and reporting of their claims about their widgets can position themselves in the market far more credibly than any competitors who rely on the echo chamber of internal testing. That’s a significant advantage to have – and we’re here to help you get it, if you want it.

(Sure, we also regularly do head-to-head product comparisons where we benchmark one vendor’s widgets with their competitors too, but that’s a story for another day.)

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