What Do Swedish Putty And Product Demos Have In Common?,

Ellen Carney [Posted by Ellen Carney]

About 10 years ago, my husband and I moved into an old house located in a charming seaside town in Massachusetts. Not long after we moved in, we were watching a rerun of the PBS series, “This Old House”, and the show we happened to catch covered the exterior painting of an even more antique house than ours in an even more charming seacoast town, Salem, Massachusetts. This episode featured no ordinary paint job . . . nope, the focus of the show was all about how they were going to paint the front door.   

The host interviewed the painting contractor who revealed that he was using a product called “Swedish putty” to smooth the surfaces on the door and the reeded columns that flanked the grand entry to the house. He proceeded to have his crew demo the product and with a simple swipe up and down with the plastic applicator he cut, it was done. Later, the door was shown, now clad in Swedish putty and the very special paint, and it was something to see! I wanted to have my front door look just like it. I ran off to find out more about this miracle, Swedish putty.   Swedish putty   After reading the web site, it became clear that I was going to need more than just one product to achieve the same result as on TOH, but rather a whole system that included Swedish putty, the special brushes needed for the special viscosity of the paint, their brand of special paint thinner, and the crowning touch, the paint (recall the timing: late dot.com). With one statement on the vendor website, ". . . it is possible to make a 200-year old door look like the fender on a Mercedes . . .", I was so in.  

I trekked to the 30 miles to the closest dealer, bought the “system”, carefully read the instructions, and opened the can of Swedish putty . . . only to see that it was NOTHING like how it was shown on the TOH episode. Instead of the smooth, pliable consistency I remembered, it was a pool of linseed oil topping a layer of stuff as dense as schist at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was a bear to apply, and the sanding left my front yard looking like a post-Chernobyl nuclear winter. Three weekends worth of work later, my front door didn’t quite look like the promised Mercedes fender, but at least the pizza delivery guy said it was the shiniest door in town.

So what happened?

I saw the demo on TOH, but missed that this wasn’t DIY homeowners like me but real professional painters (read: professional presenters) using it. I also saw the end product, but didn’t see all the dirty work — the sequence of steps, swearing, mistakes and mess that ensued to get to the end result. In a lot of ways, I succumbed to the marketing hook of something new, different, and better than what my neighbors had, that was “sold” by a trusted source, TOH.

What’s the point?

My Swedish putty story isn’t all that different from what happens when vendors market (and we fall in love with) new tech and approaches to old ways of doing business. We (and the vendor sales reps) believe the marketing and those professional presenters who guide the demo, and hope that our trust is well placed in the sales rep we’ve come to trust. But that trust comes from being upfront about what a piece of technology can, as well as can’t do, and what kind of resources are required for success. In a recent series of conversations with insurance IT executives, Forrester learned that insurance IT buyers put a lot of stock in the shared vision they build with tech vendor sales reps, and the value of that stock increases when those reps are willing to say that regardless of what the marketing says, what I have right now is not a good fit for your business. In the end, that tech might work out okay like my door project did, but it could well be the pain associated with getting there that the client ends up remembering.