Brand Honesty: Why and How It Pays to be Truthful
Openly, honestly admitting your brand’s flaws is a daunting prospect, but it just might save your bottom line or even help grow it!
Few companies willingly confess their problems, but most customers notice those problems. Whether it’s an unclear label on some packaging that makes it difficult to read the ingredients, a supply chain that’s less than green, or terrible Wi-Fi at your conference table, attempting to hide flaws often leads to unrealistic customer expectations. When assumed standards aren’t met customers have poor experiences. They can become a source of frustration, which in turn can potentially boil over into anger. You can avoid those brand disasters by managing customer expectations through a well developed brand strategy and proactive messaging aligned with your core brand values — and properly developed brand packaging where applicable.
The easiest way for you to manage your customers’ expectations, minimize unrealistic frustrations, and show that you care is by being honest. Share all of the information that customers need – the great and the not so good – and you’ll create a level of trust with each customer interaction.
After you’ve established trust, you can leverage it by showing customers how you’ve overcome challenges or limitations. Manage expectations and your customers will not only forgive the big problems, they may even completely ignore the small ones like Velocity marketing did when it took a chance on an honest restaurant.
One great thing about honesty is that it standouts as a strong part of your brand voice when it’s an integral part of your brand strategy, marketing, sales and service. Now, you have to decide if you want that benefit.
8 Ways Brand Honesty Pays
1. What Does an Honest Brand Voice Do?
If customers believe your brand is honest and authentic, they’re more likely to trust the claims that you make.
For example, let’s say you have a system that truly saves procurement professionals 3% on every bulk order. If you’ve previously made similar claims but customers haven’t been able to achieve those savings, your messaging will seem like just another pitch. But, if you limit or frame your guarantees to very specific usage applications that customers can achieve, they’re more likely to believe and trust what you say.
Part of remaining believable is explaining your promotions and promises. If that 3% saving requires a continuous monthly order of more than 1,000 units in OEM hardware, that is the truth whether or not the marketing says so.
For FMCG brands, honest branding makes your claims far more believable — even if it goes against previous experiences. This is well evidenced with a brand sold in India, in a category that is very busy in terms of competitors all claiming similar things and nothing really significantly differentiating them or having much brand impact.
Heat can cause significant skin irritation and itching in hot climates, with prickly heat being a common and very uncomfortable skin ailment, especially in places like India. Many products on the market in India claimed they would provide instant relief, but that’s a claim very few – if any – brands could actually deliver on. Instead of making the poor “instant” claim, Medimix’s Prickly Heat Powder promises relief in three days.
Image via www.cholayil.com
The brand was able to quickly climb to a top seller in this category with a series of honest adverts about its three-day window. The observations that kids scratch their prickly heat skin itch without any inhibitions, a bit like monkeys, became the inspiration for this brand’s honest story. One of the best is this “Monkey” spot that shows it actually taking three days to find that sweet relief. Even if you don’t speak the language, the message is clear and feels extremely genuine.
Take it out of the fine print and make it a clear part of your sales communications. This honesty ensures your audience knows what to validly expect and it makes you far more trustworthy. The important part is that this honesty and openness will improve your brand reputation, even among prospects that aren’t suitable for availing of your offer.
And your brand reputation is more important than price when it comes to online sales.
2. From Problem Selling to Problem Solving
Today branding is all about meeting your customers where they need help and making their life easier. Yes, you do this through selling goods and services, but today’s customers crave a relationship. That means they’re more likely to feel spurned when things go wrong and consequently voice their feelings freely, particularly online.
If you have dissatisfied customers who are active on social media, you’re more likely to see a complaint out in the wild. That’s a trend that’s been on the rise since 2012.
Building your brand as an honest operator can help reduce the amount of complaints you see online by focusing your branding on what you truly provide. Don’t conflate capabilities; offer true solutions to problems. This excites customers by showing that you’re able to view the world from their eyes and work on problems that matter most to them.
When our clients have shifted from sales approaches to a customer centric service focus, and integrated this into their branding and marketing strategy, their customers responded very positively. Get rid of overt sales tactics that push the “buy, buy buy!” message and replace it with an honest evaluation of how your goods and services solve problems, and you’ll see those digital complaints turn into digital thanks.
3. Keep The Customers You Really Want
Honesty can sometimes scare away customers, but that’s part of your brand filter too. Those are probably the customers who were pursuing products, services or support that did not necessarily relate to your core competencies or align with your brand values.
Being forthright about your strengths and capabilities will enable you to attract your ideal customers who need the solutions and products you offer. Those who your honesty deters are more than likely poor leads – they would probably need significant inputs in areas that may not be a good fit with your core business model and likely be less satisfied with your brand.
Honest communication allows you to focus on and attract customers with a high lifetime value, while reducing the time and effort your sales and service teams deal with low lifetime value customers. It’s not a loss, it’s separating the chaff from the wheat. A its most fundamental that’s what effect branding is all about, attracting your ideal customers and deterring those who are not a good fit.
We’ve found clients achieve more success when they focus on core, high-value customers and connect to them on an honest brand level, living their brand values through how they operate internally, their brand culture, and the positive experiences they create for their ideal customers.
4. Honesty Sells, No Matter How Bad It Is
Would you stay at the worst hotel in the world?
Image via www.hansbrinker.com
Amsterdam’s Hans Brinker Budget Hotel thinks you will. And it also thinks you’ll love the experience so much you’ll tell everyone you know. Even if you never stay there, you’ll probably be inclined to share its adverts when you spot one.
The brand doesn’t take itself too seriously, so it can poke honest fun about the fact that its forks will be bent, heating is just another blanket, and “it can’t get any worse, but we’ll do our best.”
The Hans Brinker has been advertising itself as the worst for more than 10 years because it wants customers who aren’t looking for the best. It focuses on the typical hostel tourist, backpacking across Europe for adventure or at least a temporary escape from college. That means it has created a large amount of buzz with each advert and continues to attract new customers.
Even when it promotes the germs and bugs that live in its sheets!
5. Honesty Helps You Make A Successful Come Back
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) had a somewhat “unflattering” reputation, but it wasn’t a strong selling point for the brand. It hurt market share and provided opportunities for the rise of Google’s Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. For many Internet Explorer became the Web browser that people simply used to download other Web browsers.
When Microsoft wanted to unveil IE9, it had to acknowledge the problems of the old browser or customers simply wouldn’t have listened or believed them. So, Microsoft fessed up to its shortcomings and pushed honesty as the chief message for all the people who grew up with IE and its issues.
Microsoft began rebranding its browser with a pitch that harkened back to the nostalgia of the 1990s and it’s slower pace. It focused on the differences between the end of the analog era and what digital media has brought, noting that the brand grew up just like its core set of users. But, throughout all of its branding, Microsoft acknowledged the imperfections and showed how it changed – and only where it actually changed.
Our experience has shown that clients with brand challenges have been able to revitalize their brands more successfully when new brand messages are honest and open about past shortcomings, failures and successes. Saying the right Mea Culpa can improve your standing and help reconnect with customers who previously might have left through frustration and annoyance.
6. Honesty as a Competitive Advantage
Most brands aren’t at the top of their industry. We all want to be, but it’s a commercial reality that someone is going to come in second. If that’s you, being honest about it can garner a lot of attention.
Image via www.avis.com
One of the biggest companies to embrace this has been Avis. The car rental service acknowledged competitors in its adverts for more than 50 years but consistently ran with the slogan: “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder” – later shortened to “We try harder.” They didn’t aim to win business by saying they were the best. Avis told you what its competitive advantage was – trying harder than the rest – and its adverts worked to show that for over 50 years.
Whether it’s a 1978 ad explaining what the brand does behind the scenes or another from more recent years that shares a true customer experience with someone going the extra mile, Avis lived its brand values and its promise, expressed through it slogan, and consequently was perceived to be an honest brand.
7. The B2B and B2C Honesty Commitment
Transparency is the order of the day for all brands be they B2C or B2B, from sourcing and logistics to software or the total cost of a product. Every customer wants to know as much about you, your values and your product or service costs as possible.
Transparency is simply the buzzword that means demonstrable honesty. A client who wants you to be more transparent is asking for you to provide honest claims and assessments, with tools, reports and other information to back up what you’re saying.
Transparency is also a key factor in making your other competitive advantages viable. If you’re trying to promote sustainability, two of the most important factors for your customers will be their awareness of a positive impact and the believability of your impact claims, according to a study from the United Nations Global Compact.
8. Make Your Brand Extraordinary with Honesty
An 80-year-old shirtless man running on a bridge kicked off one of the most well-known branding campaigns ever: Nike’s “Just Do It.” In just 32 seconds, Nike presented a simple, honest message that told a story everyone could relate to and was impressed by. It helped Nike jump from $800 million in sales to $9.2 billion in under 10 years.
Nike built its brand on an honest statement that didn’t promise anything it couldn’t provide: You do it, and Nike helps.
Your brand doesn’t have to come up with anything as minimalist or iconic as “Just Do It,” but you can take lessons from the approach of Nike, Avis, Microsoft and Hans Brinker. They show their flaws, highlight their strengths, don’t over-promise, and poke a little fun at themselves to show their human side — all of which gets us emotionally engaged.
Remember, people buy with emotion and justify with rational, regardless of gender. If you want your brand to connect with your primary target audience you must engage them emotionally, in a positive way that’s relevant to them, and honesty is integral to that lasting connectivity.
We’ve seen clients significantly enhance the perception of their brand and consequently their bottom line when they implement these fundamental pillars as part of their brand values. Is it time to try your hand at all of them and integrate brand honesty as part of your brand strategy?
Honesty is not only the best policy, it’s among the most profitable ones too.
You may also like:
• Brand Promises: Are You Consistently Delivering Yours?
• Humanizing Your Brand: Why It’s Key to Commercial Success
• Brand Voice: Differentiating Through Your Own Brand Language and Attitude
• Destination Branding: The Key Essentials for Success
So, what do you think?
• Would customers consider your branding and packaging design honest?
• Do you need a rebranding strategy to find a candid, authentic brand voice?
• Are there limitations you can acknowledge as part of your brand strategy that would ease the burden on your customer service?
• Could any of your brand collateral create customer misconceptions about your products, service or even core brand values?
• Would you stay at the worst hostel just for bragging rights? What would a brand audit highlight as part of your brand’s bragging rights?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!
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