Telling the truth in marketing is one of the most crucial customer service functions a company can perform. By telling the truth, you give prospects and customers alike an accurate picture of products and services.This, in turn, makes buying decisions easier because the marketing message aligns with actual performance. That “yeah but” moment that occurs when the two don’t match up is avoided altogether.
Despite the seemingly simple truth about telling the truth, many marketing messages continue to divert consumers away from what they are really going to get. Then, when they discover the reality, anger and resentment often ensue.
In the days before widespread social media, companies often got away with this for awhile, as it generally took a media report to unmask imposters. Today, however, one tweet can ignite a firestorm of criticism and damage a company’s reputation in a matter of minutes.
In tandem with social media’s function as the ultimate “lie detector,” consumer trust of conventional advertising has plummeted – while credibility of social media reports is growing. Consumer reviews in Google and elsewhere are helping fuel this demand for authenticity. Able to access information that drives transparency, consumers are demanding it more and more. Companies that continue to make exaggerated or questionable marketing claims are getting their hands slapped, and watching their stock prices fall.
An article entitled, “Consumers Increasingly Distrust Traditional Advertising” on inc.com confirms consumer sentiments. The report is based on a report from Nielsen, the global information provider about consumer watching and buying patterns., and notes, “Ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising. Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising with 70% of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust this platform.”
Bottom line: Just tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – and be judged based on performances versus promises. Five tips to help meet this standard are:
1. Be complete, not just truthful. This is where “the whole truth” becomes relevant. Just as taking comments out of context can prove deceptive, so can partial truths. If a marketing statement can’t stand on its own – without considerable additional explanation—you’re often better off not using it.
2. If you can’t prove it, don’t say it. The best way to verify that marketing matches up to performance is to be able to document claims. There are several ways to document. One is empirical evidence – the “just the facts” approach that clearly and convincingly makes the case for truthfulness. A second way is anecdotal evidence – endorsements and testimonials based on consumer experiences that help make the case for a particular product or service. A third way is evidence-based reporting – articles/feedback from credible organizations, institutions or media that make specific statements supporting company performance.
3. Be big and bold versus six-point type. The more you can say “above the fold,” the better. The reason journalistic articles are written in inverted pyramid style is to put the most important elements first. That approach also extends to many websites, where a banner and top-tier text is the first (and sometimes only) information to appear on the page. Strive for marketing statements consisting of content at the top of the inverted pyramid. Whenever possible, avoid having to put a ton of qualifiers in small type at the bottom of the page. Sometimes this is necessary, particularly in regulated industries. But otherwise, keep it simple, big and bold whenever possible.
4. Invite a social media “smell test.” The concept of embracing change is relevant here. Social media is only going to grow in influence, so, companies wanting to be truthful should invite social media scrutiny versus trying to stay low-profile. Requesting reviews, weighing in on social media sites about issues and trends, and responding to negative reports are all ways to conduct a convincing smell test.
5. Address the minuses as well as plusses. This is often the toughest challenge for a company’s marketing program. In a world where comments, especially political, are parsed, dissected and taken out of context by a competitor or combatant, it’s hard to be this forthcoming. However, the potential negative “spin” can be mitigated, or even overcome, by making a problem-solving statement: “Here’s a problem we’ve had; here’s what we’re doing/have done to solve it.” While the other side may seize on your admission to gain short-term advantage, the ultimate impact of your openness and truthfulness will prove a plus – particularly in an increasingly pervasive social media world.
“Truth in marketing” is no longer something companies should aim for – it’s something every company should do every day as a matter of course.
Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, a Denver-based all-digital custom label printer providing full-color labels and stickers of all shapes and sizes, and custom packaging products. She has been in the printing industry for 19 years and with Lightning Labels for over seven years. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label and printing news. Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008.