How do you get your taxes done every year? Pose this question to about 36 million Americans and they’re going to smile and say that they use TurboTax—it’s quicker than working with a CPA, it’s easier than trying to sift through a stack of paperwork and it’s more accurate than any of those other random tax prep places you’ve heard about before. Or is it?
It’s not by chance that so many people use TurboTax each year. In fact, ask most people what other at-home tax software exists out there and they’re going to have a hard time coming up with any competitors. Simply put: TurboTax is the king because there’s no one else swiping its crown.
Here’s what’s baffling: there are competitors out there—competitors that rival TurboTax in many of its core facets and even trump it in others. TaxAct, Tax Slayer, H&R Block Online and even the IRS’ Free File system are all open to the general public as alternatives to TurboTax, yet when it comes to market share, all of these companies are scraping to get by. Picture Google versus Yahoo!, Bing and Duck Duck Go, and you’ve got an idea of what the tax software landscape looks like.
So how did it get this way and what caused TurboTax to float to the top instead of another option? The short answer is a prodigious amount of marketing and one simple message: “We’ll make your taxes quick, easy and painless.” When done right, mass marketing of a simple idea through enough channels is quickly going to get enough people talking and if you can do it before your competitors, you’re a lock for the number one option.
But it’s not being the first or even the best option that keeps TurboTax a household staple from January to April every year: it’s the concurrent marketing campaign and the new channels that it adopts as it continues to evolve. Considering TurboTax rolled out its flagship mass marketed product in 2010 with little more than in-store advertising, yet today has everything from television spots to PPC and banner ads online, tells us a lot about the trajectory of the product and what impact its marketing efforts have had.
At this point, you’re probably thinking it’s no wonder TurboTax reigns supreme: no one else is marketing! Although it’s certainly true that the marketing efforts of other products are stunted for one reason or another, there’s something else to be said about just how deep TurboTax is willing to worm its way into our culture. Take a look at one of the most recent marketing evolutions that TurboTax has adopted in an effort to stay on top:
TurboTax has started adding a new consent screen that bypasses IRS Regulation 7216. For a tax software provider, 7216 mandates the company not use your personal information to market to you. A simple checkbox or initial signature, authenticated by an unsuspecting user, gives TurboTax full access to use your personal financial information to market you products and services, including as they might pertain to its parent company, financial giant, Intuit.
TurboTax understands full well the appeal that constant mass marketing can have on a culture—especially when that culture is motivated by fear; fear of taxes and the IRS in this case. In fact, they understand it so much so that they’ve gone out of their way to develop a workaround to an IRS regulation that allows them to keep up their campaign. And, after a while, when all you see is the same thing over and over again, you start to think maybe it’s the only thing there is.
Kyle Danowski is a senior editor with ProPRcopy, a copywriting firm that assists accountants, tax professionals and financial advisors with their marketing efforts.