Branding in 2017 – Honesty Remains the Best Policy

When I (David) was learning my trade in marketing & branding agencies in the mid 1990s, the heady days of 1980s expense account excesses were still fresh in the memory. We’d think nothing of taking clients out and spending a fortune on dinner/drinks & more because the budgets were there…and we delivered results. 


Champagne Bottles

You may have seen it in the movies, but I really was the young Advertising Exec who was told (by a somewhat snooty waiter in a restaurant) when ordering drinks at a client dinner party that “Our champagne is $200 a bottle “sir.”” I took great pleasure in replying… “Well we’ll just start with the four bottles then!” That actually happened to me back in 1995…one of my proudest memories in the industry!

This, of course, was a different time. It was a time when we faxed clients for design approval…a time when I remember clearly being asked to add “www…” to the back of a brochure for my first big client…what’s that? The worldwide web…if you say so…

50 Shades of Truth

One of the reasons there was so much money in the marketing/advertising industry in those days is that we were paid to sell stuff. We were like magicians pulling rabbits out of hats. The truth didn’t matter as much as the results…and we could get away with it because the world was different. It was easier and that’s why the money flowed.  People had to buy what we were selling as they had little option to verify – the worldwide web was in its infancy and the choices of today just didn’t exist. The truth was what we said it was… in our marketing.

Now everyone is a critic, a reviewer with a public forum; now everyone has a camera in their hand to document their experiences… everyone expects more, and nobody wants to be sold anything. Because they have more choices, they have influence, they have access to the truth.

Branding Honesty

That’s why honesty and transparency had to come into branding and marketing linguistics about 12/15 years ago…

Today brands need to focus their language and message on the ‘benefits’ of their products/services, rather than features. It’s no good patting your own back because you have the fastest, cheapest, biggest… what does that mean to the consumer? Those are features, not benefits. And if you’re not honest people can prove you wrong – live streaming to their own audience. Brands need to utilize an honest language style that their audience can relate to – but that honesty needs to be honest, not fabricated to suit.

That’s especially true if your audience is comprised mostly of Millennials. Millennials have taken the lead in seizing on the new platforms of the digital era – the internet, mobile technology, social media – to construct personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups. They are “digital natives” – the only generation that has not had to adapt to these new technologies. Not surprisingly, they are the most avid users of technology.

Millennials, because they are digital natives, have emerged into adulthood with low levels of social trust. Just 19% of Millennials say most people can be trusted* and if they think that about people, what do they think of corporations’ trustworthiness?  While younger consumers are optimistic in general, they are untrusting, so simplicity and transparency are important motivators.

Branding without the Bullshit

Branding without the BullshitThe brands and organizations that thrive in the world of ‘digital natives’ are those that reward their customers’ intelligence. They are proud to be what they simply are. These are the brands that communicate with simplicity and honesty. They are not making claims, or overstating their role.

That’s why brands try to foster feelings of trust and understanding at a personal level – they speak their language. But that only works if they really do speak their language – they’ll quickly see through you if you don’t.

So when you’re building your brand or rebranding your business…be honest…leave the bullshit behind.