Is your marketing a lie?


Exaggeration in advertising is commonplace, but telling out-and-out porkies is not OK. But could misrepresenting the heart of your brand come back to bite you? 

It can be easy enough to try and find some unique features of your business to shout about – key selling points, things that customers want to buy. But uncovering the heart of what makes your product or business stand apart from others is not always so straightforward. 

When Longveld was looking to refresh their marketing efforts a few years ago, I was part of the team the owners asked to work on an update to their brand. At the time, they felt that the true sense of the organisation wasn’t coming through. 

The owners talked about their amazing company culture, about how it was a true family. They spoke with great confidence about a unified and supportive team that cared as much about the business as they did.  As we started our research, we hoped for great things but there was a little bit of ‘yeah right’ in our expectations. Surely the owners’ views were coloured by rose tinted glasses?

So, three of us went on a tour of their site, to really get to understand their business. Without exception, every man, woman and dog across the whole organisation greeted us with enthusiasm and pride. They explained their part in the business like they were introducing us to their first-born child. 

The experience blew us away. The stunned silence of the journey back to the office was only broken by one of us saying “So…they weren’t exaggerating then”. 

We followed this up with interviews with customers. Same thing. They care about their business and they care about my business too, was the over-whelming narrative.

One of the main outcomes of the rebrand was the strapline ‘wairua – our binding spirit’. We were able to propose it with confidence, because we could see a shared passion in practice. And they were able to embrace it, because it gave them a way to express what was important to them all.

One of the greatest challenges for your marketing people is around what I often term ‘revealing the hidden truths’. But deciding what those hidden truths are for some organisations can be a real battle. 

Too often, organisations try to talk about too many highlights of their business. We have an established history, with great staff, amazing premises. Our prices are awesome. We’re easy to work with. We care about our community. We care about diversity, sustainability, the planet. We have experience in your sector, we’re local, we’re global, we’re fun, we’re serious…oh please, make up your minds. If you can’t pick one, at least make some attempt to narrow it down. Yes, there will be customers for whom many of those things are important, but what’s MOST important?

You can’t say you’re the cheapest if you’re clearly not. (Advertising Standards might have something to say about that.)

There are grey areas around using words like ‘best’. Not only because it is boringly generic, but because it’s a bold claim that can’t always be proven. Under what criteria are you claiming ‘best-ness.’? 

In your marketing, communications, sales and, crucially, in every time a client connects with your business, a large part of winning and retaining those clients is about managing expectations. 

In many ways, every interaction should be viewed as continuing to market your business to your client, reinforcing the expectations that you planted in their minds from the first time they heard about you.

If you claim to have a great process, it has to be self-evident. Overpromising on a schedule or falling short on communication can be as damaging as providing a sub-par product. 

When you are selling a service, it’s unusual to win a big piece of work saying “yeah, I think we have the skills to do that and, uhuh, we can probably do that in the time”. Not without a proven reputation and a solid foundation of trust. 

Once you’ve won the work, if you do things like oversell your team’s capabilities, or create a false sense of security over costs or timing, you can be undermining the promises implied in your marketing. Intentionally or not, failing to live up to expectations turns your marketing into a lie.

If you consistently fall short of expectations, your marketing and communications may need to take a whole new path to undo the damage. Only once you’ve found the way to live up to the promises you want to be able to make, can you reveal those truths with confidence.


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Vicki Jones

Vicki is the marketing manager at Waikato software specialist Company-X.

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