Marketing Truthiness

Honesty is one of the better policies.

While recently chatting with a legendary Silicon Valley CEO, we spoke about his company’s documented culture. The first two pillars of their shared ethics were honesty and integrity (which go hand-in-hand). In his semiconductor industry, honesty and integrity are occasionally vague terms, yet his company has thrived by dealing with employees, suppliers and customers with rather unshakable decency.

More marketers should follow his example.

Like politicians, some marketers have found creative ways of distorting the truth. Eschewing outright lies, they lean more heavily upon vague generalities, measured over-selling and promising support that never fully materializes. This short-sighted approach produces short-term results with long-term ruin.

Marketing dishonesty can lift revenues. People will buy products on a false promise, but only once. If a marketer wants to bump this quarter’s numbers, inaccurate promotions can shift a few fence-sitting prospects into the “win” column. But the long-term effects, once overblown promises are experienced, is a highly negative brand which spreads from prospect to prospect at the speed of Internet electrons. Short-term gain but long-term depravation.

Conversely, being scrupulously honest might keep some prospects on the fence or even lose them entirely. But over the long-term, customers will know they received the right product at the right price and that their realistic expectations were met. They may not sing your praises from on high, but when asked by a peer if you are a worthy vendor, the answer is always “yes”. Short-term slow growth with long-term market dominance.

The question then is what kind of marketer are you and what kind of company do you work for. If your boss wants rapid growth at any cost but you have an honesty streak, or if your boss defines his company by its fidelity but you play fast-and-lose with marketing copy truthiness, then you best find a new situation.

(Incidentally, Seth Godin once wrote eloquently about how telling one kind of truth is the only way that marketers can lie successfully. Worth reading though it will make you question your ethical boundaries).


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