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Truth in marketing communications

December 12, 2011
Francis Barnett brochure from 1935

A thoroughbred from wheel to wheel? Quality and imagery unite to tell the story of the workmanlike Francis Barnett of 1935

In the “Facebook Generation“, it has at last dawned on marketing professionals that they can no longer get away with unsubstantiated claims, spin and obfuscation. Or has it?

From “Every Little Helps” and “The Big Price Drop” from Tesco to the current government’s “We’re all in it together” and the previous government’s “fairness“, the marketing world is littered with phrases which are at best unclear while at the same time appearing to be authoritative and heart warming.

A manipulated brand perception – rather than actual brand delivery – is a core marketing strategy. This is wrong. These days, consumers are more sophisticated than that.

I believe that the best marketers, indeed the best sales people and even the best business managers, now need to understand the value of inherent or demonstrable truth if they are to be credible in today’s commercial world. This is especially the case when social media invites open and experience-based judgements of commercial delivery.

What is demonstrable truth in marketing?

Demonstrable truth is what every good business person should understand: whatever you say a product delivers is then supported by experience with that product. So much so that when the time comes to buy another, or to renew a subscription, the choice is made easier.

Indeed, the choice is natural: price is the economic sacrifice made to achieve value perceived to be greater than the price paid. If value is seen in marketing, a product is desired. If delivery is what was promised on the brochure, advertisement, back cover or wherever, pleasure is demonstrated by repeat purchase and even word of mouth.

Lack of skill in marketing and sales

Publishers often find that sales of new publications, or renewals of existing ones, are often below par. In most cases, a swift examination of the sales and marketing approach – combined with an assessment of what the customer values most – will reveal that claim is not substantiated by delivery.

Often, however, it is the case that sales and marketing people themselves are unable – or not skilled enough – to understand what a product does and why it does it. As such, any meeting with the customer is always doomed to failure: the customer doesn’t believe what he/she is being told; the marketer/salesperson is unable to comprehend what the customer is telling him/her.

Clearly, the volume of individual products a company has to sell – especially a book publisher – is an automatic accelerator of complacency: volume creates stress and inefficiency. Yet this is not an excuse for unprofessional marketing; quality must always come first if commercial success is required. Stint on quality, stint on success.

The impact of deceptive, misleading or just plain poor marketing communications is disastrous: unsold benefits; confused perception; unwillingness to pay. Value delivery – and an understanding of what that value actually is – is therefore crucial to commercial performance.

Today, if truth is not demonstrable, people talk about it just as they always did. Except that in the world of social media, everyone gets to hear about it.

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