Firstly, I should state that this blog post has no sex in it whatsoever.
Are you disappointed? Annoyed even? Well this is how most readers react when marketers lie or, shall we say, exaggerate or "tweak" the truth. And once you disappoint your customer there is no going back.
In this article I am going to talk about the lies that B2B marketers tell and why the truth is a better approach.
Why you shouldn't lie
First, let us look at why it’s a bad idea to lie.
There is no single more important commodity in a business relationship than that of trust. It takes time and effort to establish and yet can be lost in the briefest of moments. Every person in every part of an organisation has to work to engender trust in the customer or prospect and a single action by a single person on a single day can break that trust and undo many man-hours of effort. So trust must be nurtured and maintained and preserved at all costs.
Lying – or if you are being pedantic – being found out, is an instant trust breaker. If you cannot trust a company, you cannot do business with them.
Given the speed and ease of communication these days, the almost universal access to the Internet and the level of sharing of information on social media, lying is getting an ever more risky tactic with diminishing returns. You could be taken to court for making unsubstantiated claims – which can prove both costly and embarrassing. Or in the worst case scenario you could end up being wound up in the High Court.
Lying is difficult and fraught with danger. It is more difficult than telling the truth and usually takes skill and a good memory. In most cases it simply isn’t worth the effort and certainly not worth the risk.
Here are seven lies to avoid telling.
The hype lie
According to long established research, people detest "marketese" – writing that over-hypes a product or service. Business people are busy: they want to get straight to the facts. Credibility suffers greatly when users read something that clearly exaggerates.
Since this research audiences have become more sophisticated and they are less inclined to believe wildly exaggerated claims. Business buyers are even more sceptical and savvy. So stick to claims you can prove and simple statements of fact. Just look at the success of Ronseal’s slogan: “Does exactly what it says on the tin”. That advertising line was so successful it’s now become a common idiomatic phrase for anything that is as it appears, or claims to be, without further explanation needed.
The headline lie
It is common for writers to overstate their case in a headline to attract attention (this post is a deliberate example) – but this is just another case of lying. Sometimes it happens because the headline gets rewritten by an editor to read better or to be more dramatic and sometimes it’s rewritten to include keywords (see the SEO lie below).
On social media this trend has actually mutiplied with headlines dliberately written to make you click through to an article ("clickbait") that, in most cases, isn't as dramatic or shocking as the headline implies. It has become so bad that Facebook for one, is making a strong effort to hide these types of posts from people's timelines.
(If you really want to create clickbait - here's a handy generator.)
The key test here is whether the headline is misleading or not. Read the headline of your piece. What promises does it make about content and value? Does the article deliver on those points? Is a person reading that headline and making a decision to read your article on the strength of it, going to be disappointed? If they are disappointed with just a simple headline – then they are going to assume your product and service are going to be disappointing too.
The internal lie
Most companies look at their products and services and introduce changes for very good reasons. It may be to save costs, it may be to make them easier to produce or deliver; or for any one of a number of other logical reasons.
But for some reason, companies feel the need to create more interesting reasons for product and service changes. Or there is a total disconnect between the reasoning at the top of the company and the marketing department who has to sell it. This becomes an issue when selling points are invented to explain the change. It is much better to explain the reasoning behind the change, rather than thinking this isn’t good enough.
The SEO lie
Content producers are obsessed with SEO. They know that being found in a search engine is massively important to their success. But this sometimes leads to over-enthusiastic keyword stuffing, in the hope that someone searching for those terms will then find the article. If your article is not actually related to those keywords you will disappoint the searcher and they are not likely to trust your site again.
Likewise buying keywords on Adwords Google service for unrelated topics is a tactic that is not only dodgy, but could land you in court.
And in any event, with search engine algorithms getting more and more sophisticated, it is more and more likely that this tactic will not work and your appearance in search engines will actually be penalised.
The hashtag lie
This is a lie related to social media. The most famous example of which was from Habitat a few years ago. Social media allows you to add hashtags to posts so that people following that subject can find all the posts related to it easily.
It is tempting to look at what topics are trending and add that hashtag to your marketing post to gain reach – which is exactly what Habitat did.
However, once again you are lying – you are effectively stating that this post is about the hashtag subject when it is not. This is a very quick way to alienate and upset prospects and bring scorn and derision from the social media community, devaluing your brand.
The video lie
The rejection of hype has radically altered the way marketing videos are produced – gone are the glossy high production values of the big budget corporate blockbuster. They just felt like so much propaganda to many customers and prospects. Now there is a switch to more realistic videos – interviewing customers, shooting on phones, anything to give it realism.
Quick, off-the-cuff videos showing actual products being used or real services being delivered are more honest and believable – truthfulness and honesty being a powerful persuader. Customers and staff telling real stories in their own words, case studies, independent interviewers and natural testimonials are all part of this movement away from unbelievable "perfect" videos. That doesn't mean that you should drop production values, or shoot unprofessionally; but rather that you should concentrate on realism and truth in the subject matter and approach.
The photo lie
Making your product look like something it isn’t, or overuse of Photoshop to produce unrealistically perfect images, is another bad idea. Prospects will eventually get to see what the product looks like – either by googling it, or worse, when they buy it. At that point they will stop trusting you.
Estate agents, tour operators, hotel managers and restaurants are all guilty of this lie. And just look at food images at fast food outlets and on packaging – does anyone still believe they are an accurate representation of the food they are about to receive?
Why honesty is the best policy
Customers buying business products or services are looking for a good price and good value. But before they make a decision, they have to be sure the information they are using as a basis for that decision is correct. More and more they are turning to customer testimonials, peer recommendations, social media, review sites and bloggers for independent un-biased opinions.
If what they hear differs radically from the story you are telling, they will lose trust in you – not just over your marketing messages, but over your whole ability to deliver as a company.
It is actually a really good idea to give your company a reality check by monitoring all those sources yourself to see what the perception of your product or service really is. You might be surprised. This will allow you to address those areas where you are failing or correct misconceptions.
Being more truthful about your product or service’s limitations will gain you more credibility and trust, than just papering over the cracks or selling something under false pretences.
Being honest is simpler, quicker, less hassle and produces a more consistent approach than marketing lies. More and more, to be successful you just need to concentrate on one thing – making a better product or delivering a better service.