Branded Lies

If you want to destroy a brand, just lie a little.

Some recent political news (on which I won’t elaborate to avoid ruffling friendly feathers) is a case study in bad marketing by incorrectly setting the market’s expectations and misleading buyers. This is a cardinal sin in the Marketing religion, and those guilty of the sin will burn in the pits of unemployment lines.

Honesty is one of the better policiesAll relationships are built on trust, and all transactions are relationships. Even small one. When you buy a candy bar at the corner store, you trust that the reported weight is close to accurate, the contents are faithfully reported, that the snack isn’t poisonous and that the store has not substituted inferior goods. That’s a lot of trust behind a 50¢ transaction and fleeting relationship. Had any of those trust points been violated, you would never again buy that candy bar or shop at that store.

Brands reflect, among other things, cumulative trust. Most markets allow ample wiggle room for minor trust infractions. Make a candy bar a little lighter than the packaging says, and you will hear disgruntled comments, but sales will not fall providing you don’t make a habit of reducing customer calorie intake. Put a little arsenic in a batch of chocolate and you can kiss your brand goodbye. Hence, slightly exaggerating your product claims is a lesser sin and one that most buyers expect in this often wicked world.

Outright lies, however, can drop your brand, your Q or your voter approval ratings overnight.

Here are the ways most marketers destroy their brands by being less than honest with their markets:

Claims Writ Too Large: Every company tries to look bigger than they are. I love start-up web site that look stunningly professional but don’t list a street address. If you make exaggerated claims about your product, your customer service or the net value delivered, buyers will destroy your brand. Nobody likes being cheated on the basics, and undeserved bragging about your product is in effect selling a Cadillac and delivering a Yugo.

Claims Proven False: Overselling is bad enough, but fraud is worse. In the recent political example I mentioned, leaked documents showed that basic claims were known to be false when they were being made. The politician who made the false claims saw his approval numbers fall 13 points in two weeks, a downward drop previously known only to asteroids entering the atmosphere. Nothing breaks trust, relationships and a brand quicker than outright deception.

Claims Changed After The Fact: One reason End User License Agreements have many unilateral alteration clauses is to protect the vendor. The reason these clauses are rarely used is that it would kill customer loyalty. When a deal isn’t a deal any longer, people feel cheated even if they clicked the “accept” button. Marketer must be wary of the perceived degree of commitment to a product as well as actual contractual obligations.

Honesty is one of the better policies. Don’t tell the market lies, even the little, white variety. Don’t over promise because you will under deliver. And never peddle alternate promises after the deal is made, because perceived lies are as good bad as the real ones.


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