Can marketers tell the difference between lies and truth?

by · August 12, 20146 comments

Marketers are trained on how to spin…how to write elegantly…how to stay in the brand voice. We’re also trained on how to lie and how to lie well. In all honestly, we lie so well that sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. All of the half-truths, omissions, and spins we put on all of our marketing pieces could be what is holding us back from an authentic connection with the exact audience we’re trying so desperately to attract.

You could argue that we’ve become such good liars that we can’t even tell the difference between lies and truth anymore. How did this happen?

It probably started with spin

Wheel of FortuneI’m pretty good friends with spin. In fact, I’m so close with spin I’d take him on a family vacation. Many of you have been there. You get some marketing copy that just doesn’t flow as well as you’d like, it just doesn’t sound sexy enough. So what do we do? We edit the bejeebus out of it until the words are crafted into the perfect mix of suave goodness. But, if you really look at it with novice eyes and start picking it apart for what an actual human would say, you have no idea what it says. We see this kind of copy all over the place, but in case you need an example, I’m providing one below. As a note, this was pulled from a CRM company website that I actually like very much, but really this could have come from any of the CRM sites (or any other company site). This kind of language is all over the web.

“Customer relationship management (CRM) is all about managing the relationships you have with your customers. CRM combines business processes, people, and technology to achieve this single goal: getting and keeping customers. It’s an overall strategy to help you learn more about their behavior so you can develop stronger, lasting relationships that will benefit both of you. It’s very hard to run a successful business without a strong focus on CRM, as well as adding elements of social media and making the transition to a social enterprise to connect with customers in new ways.”

I mean seriously, does any human being actually talk like this? Thankfully, I’ve never met anyone that does. This copy was most likely written by a marketer; it probably went through several rounds of edits, had layers of spin added with each, and resulted in a paragraph of marketer speak that most prospects and customers have to decipher. It’s almost as if we think that flowery, non-intelligible language is a sign of our intelligence. And we do this so often, it’s become hard for marketers, myself included, to separate spin from fact. As a marketer, when I read this the first time, I thought, hmmm…that’s pretty solid copy. Then when I started breaking it down and trying to put it into human terms, I couldn’t. There’s just too much in there to adjust. To fix it would require completely starting over and removing all the jargon. Ultimately, it might look something like this:

“If you want to know what’s happening with your prospects and customers, you need customer relationship management (CRM) software.”

Frankly, even that sentence could become more human, but that illustrates my point. I’m a marketer, and it’s extremely difficult to take off that hat and write something that doesn’t sound like fluff. Have we become so good at fluff that we can’t even write like humans anymore?

Then the omissions started

A lot of marketers call this positioning. It’s when we highlight all the good stuff and leave out all of the things we don’t do really well. Because who wants to shine a light on something the company doesn’t do well? So we’ll just leave that out and only address it if someone asks us.

In the same CRM example above, it seems that they left out that the user interface could use some work for the non-tech savvy, and that if you have monthly reoccurring revenue streams that aren’t a static price it’s almost impossible to run an accurate pipeline report.

It seems that companies want to position themselves as the best solution for everyone. Maybe we don’t want to highlight who we aren’t a good fit for because we’re willing to take money from anywhere. The challenge with omissions and not being forthcoming about what you don’t do well is that it doesn’t allow the reader to quickly opt-out if you aren’t the best solution for them. They think you do something well that you don’t, and then they realize it after they’ve become a customer.

Omissions set our prospects and our company up for a failing relationship right from the beginning. In our quest for revenue from any source, we can easily be setting ourselves up to deal with customers who aren’t a good fit. What happens then? They drain the resources of your customer service team, they complain, and they may even share their unhappiness in social channels. It’s easy to point the finger of blame at the customer, but I believe the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the marketers and sales people who use omission as a sales tool.

Omission is lying in its most socially acceptable form, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a lie. In my opinion, glossing over information that allows someone to opt-in or opt-out is a recipe for a disastrous relationship with your customers.

Then we started downright lying

This is when we make conclusions that are not based on fact. It’s when we make erroneous assumptions about our audience and present solutions as if they are the best or the only way. And it’s when we say things as if they apply to the majority of our customers when we know that they really only apply to a few. This copy is on the same CRM companies website.

“A new world, and a better way to sell. Where field sales closes deals from anywhere. And inside sales is fed nothing less than the best leads. It’s sales managers knowing which deals will close. And when. A world where lead and contact information is always fresh and complete. And everyone performs like an ‘A’ player.”

First, software does not create a new world or a better way to sell. If you really read that, it’s obvious that it’s a ridiculous statement. Perhaps field sales closes deals from anywhere, as long as it doesn’t require data or internet access. Sales managers will only know which deals will close and when if their sales team puts in the right information and keeps it up to date. However, history shows that these dates are always guesses and not based on reality. The next sentence just makes me laugh: A world where lead and contact information is always fresh and complete. Ha! I’d love to see that world because it’s never been true in any CRM system I’ve ever used in any company I’ve worked with. This has a huge requirement for the sales professional, and, after all, they are fallible humans. Finally, software does not make everyone perform like an “A player”. That is a wild assumption about people. People have their own motivations that are not controlled or determined by the software they use.

I used these examples because they come from a software company that I use. It’s a company I respect tremendously. I have friends in their marketing department that are smart, genuine human beings who do not want to mislead their prospects or customers. I know they have the best of intentions in their hearts. And ultimately, that is the point of this entire post. Because I know some of the people behind this brand, and I know they wouldn’t ever lie, intentionally.

Are we blind to all the lies we tell because we’ve done it so often we don’t even recognize it anymore? Do we not see them as lies and rather as good marketing? If that’s the case we’ll need to start making some choices because if being a good marketer means being a great liar, I’m not interested. But perhaps I am already there. Maybe in my quest to be great at what I do, I accidentally became a trained liar and didn’t even know it.

For now, my solution is simple. I’m going to have a really sensitive radar for spin, omissions, and lies. I’m going to actively seek it out because the only way I can see getting out of this rabbit hole is to shine a light on it for myself so that maybe… just maybe… one day I’ll be able to recognize the lies from a mile away and not do it myself.

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About Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://linkedin.com/in/donpower Don Power

    Another hard hitting post from Nichole Kelly that forces the professional marketer to evaluate his or her activities. The bigger picture for me, is that if a CEO of a marketing company is willing to be so transparent and honest, then THAT’s the agency you want at the top of the list when you’re looking for help on your next campaign!

    Even though I could easily Google their company information, I often ask marketers on Twitter to “tell me about your company in 140 characters or less.” The results are pretty telling. If I get a “human” answer, I continue to engage with the marketer and the brand and a new relationship is born. If I get nothing more than truncated marketing spin, I strike the brand from my “research further” list.

    Nichole, whatever ashram you’ve been hanging out at – are they taking new clients? ;)

    Cheers!

    – Don

  • Prithviya Jain

    My generic wording: “Need AFFORDABLE social media services for your small business? Visit my website: http://socialjaguar.com/

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