Customer Service

Marketing spin gives way to truthtelling

By Mike Lusky | September 13, 2013

Regardless of your feelings about social media, give it high marks for driving a major shift in the way companies present products and services, and how consumers make buying choices.

In essence, social media is the ultimate lie detector. If a company spins a tale that doesn’t jive with performance or quality, blogs, microblogs (e.g., Twitter), review sites and discussion forums are likely to address it – often in harsh terms.

Believability of “Mad Men” era advertising and promotion is rapidly diminishing vis a vis the peer-to-peer “personal recommendation” model prevalent in social media.

A report on, which measures what consumers watch and buy, carries the headline, “Consumer trust in online, social and mobile advertising grows.” The article notes, “According to Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising report, which surveyed more than 28,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries, 92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising – an increase of 18 percent since 2007. Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust messages on this platform, an increase of 15 percent in four years.”

Meanwhile, traditional advertising – the “Mad Men” mainstay – didn’t fare so well. According to the report, “When it comes to traditional, paid media, while nearly half of consumers around the world say they trust television (47%), magazine (47%) and newspaper ads (46%), confidence declined by 24 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively, between 2009 and 2011.”

A recent article headlined, “This Just In: A Lot Of People Don’t Trust Advertising” reinforces the decline of traditional advertising as a trusted medium. Writer Steve Olenski notes, “…from traditional to digital to mobile to social media, when it comes to advertising, people will always look at it with a jaded eye…Lab 42, a research firm, decided to pose questions in that vein…76% of respondents said ads in general were either ‘very exaggerated’ or ‘somewhat exaggerated’…87% think half or more cleaning ads are photoshopped…96% think half or more weight loss ads are photoshopped.”

Given increasing distrust of traditional advertising coupled with ever-growing faith in recommendations and reviews provided by social media, what can forward-thinking companies do to capitalize on these trends? Here are some tips:
Say what you do, do what you say. Sounds simple – even trite – but making your words to match your actions is one of the best ways to demonstrate authenticity. Instinctively, humans are wired to detect BS. That uneasy feeling in the pit of one’s stomach or perception that something isn’t matching up are just two ways we sense a disconnect. Take away this uncertainty simply by making performance match promises.

Go heavy on humor – including laughing at yourself. This may sound out of place. How can humor encourage truthtelling? Humor helps people drop their guard and become more receptive to marketing messages. Who doesn’t get a kick out of the Geico gecko and related commercials? Obviously, they wouldn’t continue their humor-laden promotion if it didn’t also improve the bottom line. Of course, couple humor with truthtelling. Joking around doesn’t replace being honest – it just helps reinforce acceptance of the message.

The Forbes article emphasizes the importance of humor: “And by all means, when in doubt infuse some humor into what you’re doing…humor breaks down walls, puts people at ease, relaxes them – all of which makes them more agreeable to at the very least consider buying your product.”

Admit your faults – and discuss how you’re problem-solving them. There is a story about a hotel that found customers were more satisfied when there was effective resolution of a problem versus just adequate routine performance. Turns out that people place high value on problem-solving. It shows caring and a personal interest in an increasingly institutionalized and impersonal corporate environment. In this same vein, don’t hide your mistakes or faults. Discuss them openly along with how you’re solving them.

Value and take care of your stakeholders – employees, customers and suppliers chief among them. They can be your most powerful advocates. When morale, motivation and satisfaction are high, those good vibrations tend to be infectious in the marketplace. Costco and Southwest Airlines are excellent examples of companies that have experienced the profit-building impact of valuing stakeholders.

Offer a top-notch product or service. Treat all your people well. Be open and honest about how you conduct business. And inject some humor along the way. Social media reviews and reports will reward you for it.

Tammie MacLachlan contributed to this report.

Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels since 2008. Tammie MacLachlan is the customer service manager of Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA. 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.