Brian Creath

Truth In Marketing. (Will anyone buy it?)

In Advertising, Brand, Business strategy, Communications, Corporate Marketing, Marketing, Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 at 2:05 pm


We are experiencing a seminal turning point in the history of marketing: the power shift from company to consumer.

Until very recently, communications have been a one-way street, an imbalance that favored organizations. They have held all the power, reinforcing their decisions based on research conducted in artificial environments outside of true human experience. But no more. Today, social media is tilting power toward buyers for the first time in history, shifting the imbalance in the opposite direction. Now, customers have an instantaneous platform for telling the world how they feel and in what they believe.

In CMO Thought Leaders: The Rise of the Strategic Marketer, John Hayes, CMO at American Express stated, “In the 20th century, we did monologue marketing. We did most–if not all–the talking. And we expected the consumer to listen. Now, in the 21st century, we’ve moved to a dialogue. Consumers want to be heard. In fact, they will not tolerate not being heard.”

Which means that in the future, companies that tell the truth–where words mirror action–will succeed more often than those that don’t. Customers won’t buy anything less.

But there’s a problem. A problem so dark and secret that few would dare acknowledge its existence: Marketing isn’t very good at telling the truth. Never has been. Good at stretching it, yes. But telling it verbatim…hmmm, let me talk to legal.

Because business has been ‘talking at’ customers for so long, many a bad habit has crept in. With few, if any, checks and balances from customers, marketing has run amok with claims, promises and overstated benefits. With all the advancement made in the field of marketing, far too much of the underlying assumption is still founded in, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

But to succeed, the craft must change. Marketing is no longer about driving a top-down message at customers. Today, marketing is about managing an active and ongoing conversation with customers–promising, yes, but delivering on that promise every time. And, working with customers to determine what that promise should be in the first place.

Perhaps Lincoln said it best: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” (By the way, if you need help finding the real truth about your business and brands, I know a firm with an approach that can help.)

While I’m working on my next post, I hope you’ll read about how Cohesion helps organizations build stronger messaging to increase consistency, lower cost and drive growth, here.

  1. Tottaly agree!
    Would that mean the rising of Public Relations? As a Management Process?

  2. I agree with the view that there has been a shift in the way companies market to consumers but is this a shift in power? Unless there is a monopoly, power has always rested with the customer. I believe that the most successful brands have always been honest and truthful with their public. Those that have not have suffered regardless of the internet; politicians and the tobacco industry are just two examples. What the internet and in particular Web 2.0 has done is provide consumers with a voice that enables them to influence both brands and their peers. This isn’t dialogue marketing because stakeholders talk to each other and not just to the brand. A brand that is alert to conversations where it is the subject of discussion will learn far more about its own market perception and can then start to engage in really powerful, connected marketing. So, this is not so much a power shift but an opportunity for brands to understand and identify with their public to a great degree than ever before. Now more than ever, brands must have clear values and a defined point-of-view that can be shared with all their stakeholders. Truth must always be core value.

    • Jeremy, thanks for your comment. Until very recently, communications have been a one-way street, an imbalance that favored organizations. Today there is a shift in that model. While you correctly point out that consumers have always held financial power, they had no voice in marketing. Now, they do. This is the shift in marketing power I describe.

  3. Hmm. Interesting thought. Is it that until now life has imitated marketing? And with the help of social media, we’re turning the corner so that marketing will imitate life? We consumers are now going to be the ones doing the tail wagging? If you are right, this is indeed the dawn of a new day (and a new “imbalance”). Marketers may be getting an earful of “truth” from consumers. Will they be able to handle it? Their survival will depend on it. Evolution at work.

  4. Hi Brian,

    Your ideas and that billboard picture are pretty revealing! A honest positioning where the brand openly recognizes its downsides first, and maybe then poses some key advantages, can actually work. Using your example, “Surly staff, poor selection,high prices,terrible quality, BUT timely delivery and convenience”… just a random thought. Another similar idea could be “our product may be considered ugly but does the job at the best price” people looking for functionality and not looks would be attracted. Can talking the “ugly truths” about your brand be an advantage? Could it be perceived as authenticity? I guess yes. What do you think?

    • Margarita — Thanks for your comments. Yes, an “ugly,” yet functional product can succeed if positioned properly. Best case in point: The strategy that DDB used to position the original Volkswagen Beetle to the American public in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brian Creath. Brian Creath said: From The Idea: Truth In Marketing. (Will anyone buy it?): We are experiencing a seminal turning point in the histo… […]

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