It is almost time for my 2015 digital and marketing trend predictions but we can debate them in January. However, one broad theme on my horizon is honesty. Could honesty be a marketing trend for 2015?
Marketers are not famous for honesty. Generally, the perception is the opposite. We are the spin masters, we ‘target’ people, persuade and manipulate them to change behaviour to suit our commercial ends.
But the internet, and social media in particular, has enforced increasing transparency on organisations. Alistair Campbell, famed for spin, said at our recent Festival of Marketing: “Customers, shareholders, employees, media and activists all have an expectation of transparency, and engagement.”
So what should marketers do if the product or service they’re marketing is not as good as it should be? The obvious answer is that the problems should be fixed, as no amount of marketing will mask the deficiencies.
As Campbell also said, a Hollywood movie doesn’t get the positive social media response that leads to ‘Oscar buzz’ “unless the product has something going for it, something you want to tell your friends, something to write home about”.
The closing keynote of the Festival of Marketing, from Russell Davies, director of strategy at GDS (Government Digital Service), echoed this point forcefully: don’t bother trying to market at people, spend your energy instead “making your services so good people prefer to use them”. In a moment of sacrilege towards the ‘E’ word, he even said: “we don’t aim to engage – we aim to deliver”.
In a perfect world, our products and services would be wonderful experiences and our jobs as marketers would be to amplify the joy our customers radiated and shared after every interaction with our brands. But given this is rare, how do we deal with imperfection? Do we continue to apply marketing lipstick?
No. Quite the contrary. We should put our worst foot forwards. We should be “insanely honest” and not only “fess up to our imperfections but use them to our marketing advantage”. So argued Doug Kessler, co-founder at Velocity, also speaking at the event. He gives six compelling reasons why radical, proactive honesty, where you are open about your imperfections, might be the best marketing policy:
- It surprises and delights – no snake oil salesmen or duplicitous marketing here.
- It signals confidence – if you are prepared to be honest about your bad points, you must be confident in your proposition overall.
- It builds trust – if you are open about the bad stuff, customers are more likely to believe the good points.
- It alienates less likely buyers – why waste time and resources on prospects who were never going to buy? You might as well put them off with your insane honesty.
- It attracts ideal prospects – if a customer is interested even after hearing the bad news, he or she is a really good prospect.
- It focuses you on the battles you can win – you are much clearer about your true competitive advantages.
No doubt we all would always have preferred honesty from organisations but it is clear that millennials expect increased transparency and authenticity from brands. Brutal honesty with suitable humility and a dash of humour may be the best way to engage and connect successfully with future customers and prospects.
In the 1960s, Avis made a virtue of being only number two in the car rental market: as a result it tried harder. And you really should do a Google image search of the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel in Amsterdam to see hilarious and strangely appealing ads for a truly bad hotel.
So what do you think? Is highlighting weaknesses in our proposition really a sensible marketing approach? Is insane honesty set to become a growing trend in marketing?