What is the role of truth in marketing?
So, Katie Martell is one of LinkedIn’s “people to follow”. She’s a marketing expert and pretty cool human. She asked this question in her latest edition and it got me thinking a little bit. Katie mentions that many people think of marketing as having to be slimy, salesy or spammy. I wondered why they think it has to be that way? Why are business owners and self-proclaimed marketing experts trying to trick us into buying something?
“What is the role of truth today in our life, and in marketing?”
I make my living designing stuff that is supposed to make a business look so good that people want to have it. The difference between Starbucks and your local coffee joint probably isn’t just the beans. Starbucks looks like a high end coffee shop. The guy using clipart as a logo doesn’t stand a chance. Or does he?
I recently had a discussion on Facebook with another designer. We were debating whether a bad logo would break a good business. I argued that no, it wouldn’t necessarily hurt their marketing efforts. She disagreed, citing the fact that no one would take them seriously if they used cartoon stick figures as logos, which they did. Here’s the thing. The business we were talking about already has multiple locations and sells successfully based on equity, not so much their branding.
I tell people all the time that you have to have a professional logo. You have to look shiny and polished and serious in order to be taken seriously by investors and consumers. And I believe that is true … about 90% of the time. People respond to quality and perceived value, but more and more they also respond to real stories and honesty.
Which brings us to the role of truth in our lives and in our marketing. I work hard to make sure my design is speaking truthfully about the business I’m serving. If what they think they want and what they communicate to me is their mission don’t jive with one another I’ll say so. In marketing, you want your audience to understand who you are and what you do right from the beginning. No muddy lines, no mixed signals. Your customers should always know how their interactions with you are going to play out. If you deviate from that truth, you’ll lose support.
What’s even more simple is that people don’t like being taken or lied to. If they feel like you’re being less than honest in your marketing they’ll bounce. I’ll use Build-a-Bear. Back when my daughter was a few years old, BAB ran a promo and told the public that you could get a free bear on a certain date. So, we got ready early that morning, traveled almost an hour to the mall and stood in a very, very … very long line. For hours. Hours, before we heard people coming back down the line saying, “there are no free bears”. Turns out their whole “event” was a promotion for their birthday deal where your kid gets to .. pay their age for a bear on their birthday. Okay. WTF. You could have just made an announcement. Instead they led customers through a horrible maze of deceit, disappointment and wasted time to get to a place where they were given a discount for something they could have just put on their damn calendars and waited for. Not to mention all of the crushed children throwing tiny tantrums. I do not feel like they were being truthful in their marketing of this “event”. Therefore … we will not be buying any BAB on anyone’s birthday ever. Never.
The role of truth in my life and marketing is connections.
In my own business I have made 50% of my strategy about being honest and truthful. When I started this ten years ago I thought I wanted to appear bigger than I was. I found I was explaining to people more and more that I was one person and I couldn’t fulfill all of their demands. About halfway through I made a shift. I started using my name rather than a business name. I quickly found that people responded differently to me. They understood right from the beginning what my capabilities were and how I would fulfill their needs and they would ask about additional services, many of which I did offer. I wasn’t sugar coating the fact that my capabilities were limited anymore and they were totally cool with it. Talking more truthfully about my personal life as it related to my work also opened up doors for me. Making real connections with people is what opened the NFP door for me in Spartanburg. They saw a human who valued their mission and shared their vision, and someone they could relate to on a personal level as well as a professional one.
In my personal life truth has complicated and enriched my experiences. I’m more open with my husband and he’s more open with me. My daughter will come to me and ask me the most bizarre questions because she knows I’m going to be truthful with her. I can be honest with her and my family about my struggles with my mental health and it makes it easier to manage. When I was finally truthful about not wanting another child … husband was able to find that closure and I didn’t have to feel like a horrible human for not wanting this thing that I thought I should want.
I think when we’re truthful with ourselves we make our lives simpler. If you’re constantly telling yourself that you have to be some kind of way and you can’t stand it … you start wondering if there’s something wrong with you. Instead, try admitting that it’s not right for you and find a way to fix that. Truth isn’t always easy, but truth will set you free.