How do you sell a secret?

How do you promote a product or service when parts of it are still under wraps?

The role of the press office and marketer is to pitch news and information to interested parties, to either raise brand awareness, or create a call to action. So what do you do when you can't refer to a product or service directly, or even what it might do?

Saying the unsayable

Ideally, no press release or copy goes out publicly until absolutely everything is 100% clear, complete and transparent. That's because journalists are naturally quite a questioning bunch, who are guaranteed to ask the difficult questions – the ones you were hoping wouldn't come up. Sometimes, though, there are legitimate liable or legal restrictions that present themselves, even though we may be ready to start inviting interest.

This is especially true in the health sciences and supplementation industries. Let's say, for example, that we have a company who have developed a brand new supplement to combat the visible signs of ageing. They are 75% of the way there, but they're a start-up and are in need of some investment and support from the local community. They don't want to make any health claims which may later turn out to be erroneous, nor do they want to give away information which may benefit their competitors. What on Earth does their article or release look like?

Web presence can be an issue for these companies, too. If you can't make direct references, it becomes harder to optimise SEO, and taking advantage of tools like Google AdWords becomes a major challenge. This is a problem also faced by legitimate drug companies, who face blocks because to a robot search engine, what they're selling is illegal or immoral. 

In this case, reputation becomes incredibly important. Being able to rely on the testimonials of others could be our next best shot at staying on top of the rankings. Tagging photos with relevant information or the benefits of products can help, as can being suggestive about the problem in question. 

Boy, it sure is hot out here!

Have you ever strategically complained about how hot it is, just as you're passing an ice-cream stand?

With releases like the ones in our example, we can ask for support and donations all we want, but rather than address the specifics, at this stage, we might spend more time hinting at the problem we're trying to solve.

A good story appeals to our emotions. It fills a hole and addresses a need. In this case, we would appeal to the opinion that most people would like to delay the visible signs of ageing, and would gladly contribute to achieving this. What we end up with, is a story which does its job of creating a call-to-action in the form of investment and support, but that also stimulates discussion and debate, something which is great for brand awareness. 

So how do we sell a secret? We start by telling a story. We hint at a problem and hint at a solution. Only then, if we gain the support and respect of our followers, can we reveal the secret, complete and transparent, as we always intended. 

Graeme Keeton is a Cambridge-based marketer and copywriter and owner of Good Talk Health and Fitness Communications. Follow @GoodTalkComms on Twitter.