Why brands should put telling truths at the heart of their marketing

Whether you’re a challenger brand or facing a cynical British public, truthful messaging should always be at the heart of your customer communications, according to marketers from Macmillan, TSB and EDF.

Use real people to send out a powerful message

By using real people, brands can put across a much more powerful and truthful message says Macmillan Cancer Support.

Speaking at the Marketing Society’s Best Practice Awards Showcase, Hilary Cross, the charity’s director of marketing and communications, pointed to the brand’s 2015 “Not Alone” campaign.

It highlighted that 4million people will be living with cancer by 2030, putting increasing pressure on public health services. The marketing activity was designed to inspire people to act.

“One in four people have to face cancer alone, so the campaign aimed to incentivise people to donate money as well as encourage those who are living with cancer to get in touch,” she said.

For the campaign, the brand used various case study examples, including Macmillan nurses and cancer sufferers who were willing to share their story.

The campaign’s honesty made a big impact among the British public, with the charity raising over £2.5million off the back of the activity.

As a result, brands should place a heavy importance on emotion, according to Cross.

“It’s about having the confidence to use metaphors. Individual stories are also much more moving. Every person we use in our campaigns gets named,” she said.

Use transparency to your advantage

Not all sectors are loved by the British public. This is something that TSB knows all too well. 

After splitting from Lloyds in 2012, the bank had to overcome the challenge of being disliked by most of the UK and find a way to turn this around, said the brand’s CMO Nigel Gilbert.

“We had to take a strategic long-term mindset,” he added.

Starting from scratch, TSB aimed to create a culture where everything it did improved brand advocacy.

The brand took an approach also advocated by John Lewis by offering the public the opportunity to buy shares and naming them partners. TSB also worked closely with the government and journalists to drive its profile.

Gilbert encouraged other brands to adopt “radical transparency”, which aims to tell customers everything.

“We created a website called ‘Truth and Banking’ where we described exactly how we make money. This was both unusual and truthful,” he said.

Since the start of the campaign activity, the brand’s reputation has risen from  -24 to +17.4, he claimed.

Tell the truth, even when it’s bad news

Businesses can also learn valuable lessons from brands in other industries as EDF did when it set out to change its image and boost brand love.

“We invited other challenger brands in and met with the O2 director team to see what we could learn,” EDF’s marketing director Martin Stead said.

From those meetings the brand hatched its five-year plan, setting out plans to change its entire communications and business strategy.

EDF also launched a price promise, where it tells its customers whether they could save money with its competitors. Last year, the brand sent out 12 million price promise alerts. The company has since seen the highest retention rates on its products.

“What’s surprising is that it isn’t the cheapest tariff in the market, but as we send out those honest price alerts, customers trust us and want to stay with us as a result,” he said.

When it comes to the brand’s wider communications, it found that rational messages often don’t work.

“The more you tell people you are trying to be good, the more they will push back and say they don’t believe you,” Stead said.

As a result, the brand used its dancing brand ambassador “zingy” to connect to audiences on an emotional level.

“We tested it against our competitors, and the results were very compelling. We then made the case to the executive board with our test results,” Stead explained.

After the campaign, EDF made a profit for the first time in 2014. It has also grown its customer base significantly, while most of its competitors are still losing custom, he claimed.

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