Are you managing a deceptive brand?

Are you managing a deceptive brand

We all want to do best by the brands we work for. We want them to be competitive, to gain share, to win … But in the bid to make that happen, some brands push the boundaries too far. Here are 19 signs your brand has lost sight of the truth.

  1. It doesn’t actually do what you say it does – the claims you’re making wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. They’re optimistic, unproven or simply untrue. Maybe they’ve been part of the in-house lexicon for long enough for people to believe they must be true. But objectively … they amount to assertions that you can’t back up.
  2. The language is vague – your marketing is filled with words that sound impressive, and people think they understand, but that, on inspection, probably don’t mean anything concrete. Real, natural, organic, integrated, market leading … sound familiar?
  3. It’s packed with small print – there’s more exceptions, conditions and qualifiers in your statements than facts. You’re probably banking on no-one reading them, but, if you’re asked about them, you say they’re there to comply with regulation. If you need this much substantiation to make a claim then the claim lacks substance. Find a new value proposition.
  4. You retouch results – things aren’t as they were. Images and ideas have been prettied up, and the process has distorted the realities of what consumers can expect. Maybe you moved a bump on a person. Just as likely you changed a stat, shifted a number or took something way of context. It looks great now, but, just like some beauty treatments, in reality your offer is packed with fillers.
  5. It looks like one thing, but it isn’t – there’s some classic examples of this here together with some eyebrow-raising insights as to how they got them to look that way. This isn’t always bad – it helps things look appetising. But there’s a clear line between optimisation and deception.
  6. You use disguising language – cue the euphemisms, acronyms, jargon, chemical names, wonky technological terms and other double-talk mechanisms that sound like they’re saying something meaningful … and aren’t.
  7. You’re not being honest about where it’s made or how – this pops up a lot in industries with sensitivities around supply chain. There’s every indication at first glance that something has been made in a particular place or that it means a particular standard, only it hasn’t … Perhaps it was assembled at home but in reality it was sourced from elsewhere (in dubious working conditions), or you stated it met a standard, but the standard itself was meaningless.
  8. You’ve made it seem more popular than it is – almost always percentages. “70% of people said or believed or agreed with something”, but only a very small number were in the test group, making the percentage disproportionate to the impression.
  9. You make it more complex than it needs to be – oh, the power of convolution. You’ve made whatever you’re doing seem so complicated that people feel they have no choice but to deal with you.
  10. You provide reassurances that aren’t true – the guarantees that came with the product aren’t real, or if they are, they come with plenty of hoops to jump through first.
  11. You scare people unnecessarily – similar to 10, but this is less about complication and more about consequences that would in reality only happen at an extreme. Comes with words like “If [something] were to occur …” Chances of it doing so? Not high – but you’re confident the consumer doesn’t know that.
  12. You overplay your contribution. You’ve undertaken to do all sorts of things but none of them have made their way into the service level agreement and, if required, not one of them has happened or will happen. There was/is always a reason that made/makes sense to your people, but not necessarily to anyone else.
  13. You’re taking credit for something that you only played a small part in. In the presentation or the case study or the blog post or whatever it was, it seemed you had been heavily involved. The game changer. They key influencer. On closer inspection, you barely made it to the side-lines with a cup of coffee and a donut. (Or else, you played a pivotal role and things didn’t go to plan. Suddenly no mention was to be found anywhere of your involvement.)
  14. You are making direct comparisons that are hollow. You compare what you did/had/made with what someone else did/had/made, but the comparison works in your favour at the expense of the truth.
  15. You’ve overlooked some inconvenient information. You present the facts that worked for you, and leave out, ignore or refute those that don’t.
  16. You say something is yours and it isn’t – or that you were something, and you weren’t. There’s an impression around ownership and right to use that wouldn’t survive scrutiny.
  17. It wasn’t or it doesn’t do what it says on the box – there’s a lovely story about this here. But it doesn’t stop there. Too many brands say they care – when they don’t, or promise to respond quickly – when they have no intention of doing so, or insinuate they have your interests at heart – when they are only thinking about themselves. If you care, hire caring staff and have caring processes. If you don’t, then don’t say you do.
  18. It needs something else to work (that’s never mentioned) – one thing is talked about in isolation but in order for it to do what you claim it does, it needs to be teamed with a whole lot of other stuff. Often, the highlighted product is presented as the hero but won’t actually work on its own. The buyer doesn’t find that out until they look to order. Your sales people call that an upsell.
  19. The suggested price isn’t close to being the real price – similar to 18. You supply the price for one bit, but in reality there are a whole bunch of other things the buyer is going to need and these components collectively blow the price through the roof.

Most brands can justify any behaviour if asked. They have to behave this way to be competitive, or it’s what everyone does, or no-one takes this stuff that seriously anyway … Right now, if some of these practices are ‘standard procedure’ with your brand, you are deceiving people, whether anyone is prepared to admit that or not. There’s degrees of course. But I also think there’s a simple rule. To me, it’s unequivocal: tell your customers the truth you’d expect to hear if you were them. Otherwise you’re not marketing.

Acknowledgements
Photo of “#3 Deception” taken by thebarrowboy, sourced from Flickr

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Putting truth back into your brand – Mark Di Somma: The Upheavals Blog

  2. Pingback: Putting truth back into your brand | Ethics | Mark Di Somma

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