Time to Ditch the Lies: Why Honesty is The Future of all Marketing

Like lawyers, we marketers have a credibility problem. It may even be worse.

According to a recent Gallup poll, advertising practitioners and business executives — the people who are the most engaged in marketing—are even less trusted than lawyers.

Only congressmen, car salespeople, and lobbyists are less trusted, and two of those professions also engage in marketing. While Gallup only surveyed American respondents, we can reasonably imagine that these ratings are broadly true for the Philippines as well.

As digital marketers, SEO professionals, and web designers, one of our long-term goals is to build trust, not just for our clients but also ourselves as an agency. However, like all other businesses, we are also driven by the short-term need to make the next sale or bag the next contract.

Given how many businesses focus on short-term gains, we understand how easily a marketer or salesman can justify bending the truth. Your customers, however, are probably much more sensitive to this kind of institutional dishonesty than you might think.

Honesty Is (Finally) the Best Policy

These days, customers are incredibly spoiled for choice, thanks to the ongoing growth and adoption of ecommerce platforms. They now have little reason to tolerate the little white lies that used to be accepted as part of doing business.

If a customer doesn’t like what they’re sensing from you, they can easily move on to the next business they find online. If you set expectations that you don’t plan on meeting, they will be able to leave you a publicly visible negative review and choose someone else the next time.

As a reaction to this, so-called “honest marketing” or “authenticity marketing” has recently been receiving attention in business circles. Though businesses have always attempted to appear truthful, it’s only recently that the zeitgeist has seriously penalized businesses for being perceived as dishonest.

Remarkably, honest marketing is transcending this initial reaction. It is now being consciously employed by a growing number of organizations to not only engage with customers but also to meet a variety of business goals.

How Does “Honest Marketing” Help Your Brand?

Being honest in your marketing approach helps your business achieve four things:

  • It shows confidence in your products or services. Most people can detect insincerity and deception. Many have also rightfully come to expect it from businesses. By choosing to be truthful when selling, you send a signal to your customers that you have nothing to hide and are confident in your offer. This may help increase their interest and trust in your business.
  • It leaves you with more qualified leads. Honesty will always drive away people who are not a good fit for your offer. This is precisely why so many business owners and marketers choose to be dishonest.

However, the kind of marketing leads you get from such an approach tend to be low value, with many customers never purchasing again because you sold them something you knew they didn’t need. Honest marketing, on the other hand, attracts better-quality leads who are more likely to make repeat purchases from your business.

  • It helps build trust. Being honest makes it much easier to meet your customer’s expectations. This builds trust and helps increase the odds they will buy your products or take your services again. In turn, this allows you to bring down the cost per sale, increases customer lifetime value, and lets you spend less for more effective marketing.
  • It’s surprising and memorable. There is a widely accepted idea that businesses will do anything they can get away with to part you with your money. This is why an honest approach to marketing stands out so much. Showing that you are, in fact, not willing to stoop as low as everyone else will help your brand be that much easier to remember.

Tips for Successful Honest Marketing

Marketers and business owners are generally not being “dishonest” on purpose. Most of us are just playing into the expectations of the local marketplace. Some of us have also been taught the wrong things by well-meaning but misguided mentors. This all means that we can sometimes forget how to be true to what we are.

Here are a few tips for successfully transitioning to a more authentic way of doing business:

1.) Don’t Be Everything to Everyone

Traditional mass marketing practices where you push the same product to whoever you can regardless of what they need have been dead and buried for decades. Your products or services cannot solve everyone’s problems and everyone knows this.

Frustratingly, a lot of business owners and marketers don’t want to admit it. What’s more, many do not respect their customers’ intelligence. This often leads to an unfortunate cycle of denial that causes businesses to pursue customers they shouldn’t.

Think about the last time someone tried to sell you something they knew you didn’t need. These kinds of interactions will almost certainly lead to a negative perception of the seller’s sincerity, regardless of whatever justification they might have.

The solution is easy: know what you’re good at and who needs what you have. Once you shift to a marketing approach that uses this mindset, you’ll not only come across as honest but more confident and competent as well. And it will be precisely because you are all those things.

2.) Talk About Ugly Truths When Necessary

Not everything is fine — everyone knows this. Brands that deliberately have an unrealistically positive message all the time come across as phony because very few people share an unrelentingly positive viewpoint.

This isn’t to say you should be negative — very far from it. Keeping things positive remains a foundational part of marketing. However, you should not make it a habit to deny bad things that are undeniable.

For instance, it’s not uncommon for food businesses to be unable to offer items according to set standards due to supply chain issues. Some may simply discontinue offering the product and others may make substitutions. Inevitably, regular customers will wonder what’s going on and many will demand answers.

The businesses that talk about these issues with their customers are more likely to be seen in a positive light than those who simply make changes without any explanation. The same is usually true for other businesses that may have other lapses or changes in the customer experience.

Again, it boils down to respecting your customers’ intelligence. If you can reasonably expect a customer to notice something negative about your product or service, it might be a good idea to acknowledge it and communicate the reasons to them in as candid and professional a way as possible.

If you knowingly avoid doing these, your customers may see that you’re doing a coverup or a bait-and-switch. Not exactly honest. If they have other options, chances are you may lose them forever.

3.) Give Your Competitors Credit When It’s Due

Let’s be real. We all have competitors who we consider to be annoying or even unethical.

However, the fact remains that you are your competitors are all playing the same game and serving similar, if not identical markets. You and your competitors are probably the only people in the world who understand each other on a deeper level. Here at SearchWorks, we particularly feel this as the community of Filipino SEO professionals is rather small.

That is why, for customers and outside observers, seeing businesses that are so similar in direct public conflict with each other isn’t a good look. Even if you have legitimate gripes, it may even reflect badly on the entire industry and the negative vibes can affect your business as well.

As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Giving credit to your competitors when they deserve it will always reflect positively on you and the entire industry as a whole.

When people see this, they see a business that’s confident and probably worth betting on. In this way, any gesture that helps others in your industry is bound to benefit your overall brand as well.

4.) Have a Sense of Humor

By sense of humor, we don’t necessarily mean that your brand has to look like some wacky try-hard. What this means is that you can acknowledge gaffes and absurdities that happen to the business. You’ll probably need a sense of humor because ridiculous things are inevitable.

Having a sense of humor will not only humanize your business, but it will give you a good way of acknowledging things that would otherwise be embarrassing to your brand. Of course, you have to make sure that the humor you employ will go well with the audience.

The other “honest” way to address embarrassing situations would be to state the issue simply and move on. While valid, this can be a major lost opportunity to make your business more memorable and relatable.

Final Thoughts

Tragically, it’s taken this much time for businesses to realize that maybe they should be truthful. The rise of honest marketing is, perhaps, yet another way that technology and access to information have made the lives of consumers better.

If you want your business to grow sustainably, you will need the trust of these newly-empowered customers. To do that, it seems that being true to yourself is the best way to go.

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