Truth or Consequences


The peaceful scenes in the commercial belie the narration . . . a father dancing with his daughter, a family frolicking along a creek bed.  But the underlying voice tells a different story:

Severe liver problems, some fatal, were reported. Signs include abdominal pain and yellowing of the skin or eyes. . . . Dizziness or fainting may occur upon standing. Side effects may include nausea, dry mouth, and constipation. Ask your doctor about Cymbalta.  (Believe it . . . here’s the YouTube link)

Many of us are puzzled and a bit disturbed by pharmaceutical ads.  Part of it is the blatant attempt at psychological deception.  It’s as if the drug manufacturer is counting on promises of panacea to dull the effect of the factual (and FDA required) language underneath. The pharmaceutical companies’ assumption of our sheer stupidity is  “off-putting.” When there is so much disparity between the implied promise and the actual statements of fact, how can the claims possibly be believable?

In the world of big business, these claims somehow work. Misleading or just downright fallacious advertising is certainly nothing new.  Consider the Chesterfield advertisement at the right – “no adverse effects on the nose, throat and sinuses of the group from smoking Chesterfields.” chesterfield Right.

Not for small businesses . . .

Small businesses can’t get away with such nonsense. In fact, the best way to ruin your company’s brand and reputation is to misrepresent the facts, or worse, to try and “smooth things over” after a sale.  Customers are willing to overlook shoddiness from WalMart. In fact, low customer expectations may actually be an important part of their competitive advantage.  For small businesses, the standards are just higher. First, the customer already thinks that they are paying a premium for your products and services. After all, a small business couldn’t possibly have a cost advantage over an online or national retailer, could they?  So, what does Joe Consumer expect for his choice to “buy local?” Nothing short of exceptional products and service and a stellar buying experience.

Under-promise, Over-perform

Truth is important.  Early on in the life of my last business, the printing franchise came up with the tagline, “Design, Print, Copy . . . Miracles.” I hated that slogan.  In the heady days of the 1990s, brash marketing claims were expected, but this one enabled a dangerous set of customer expectations and left us open to disappointment when the customer’s conception of a miracle didn’t occur.  The promise was simply so grand that it was impossible to achieve.  When the word “miracles” disappeared from the boxes, our internal motto became “under-promise and over-perform.” We told our customers what to expect, then did our best to exceed the expectation.  They loved us and thought we performed miracles.

You really can’t fudge the truth anyway.  Today’s buyer looks at several sources before he makes a purchasing decision.  Your claims are weighed against the experiences of your customers and reputation is important.  I recently purchased a software application for a website that I’m building for a client.  The software publisher’s claims were strong, but the reviews said “good software, poor documentation, no support.”   I weighed the claims of the software company against the reviews and bought the software (there were no reports of scary side effects).  The software works well, but it takes some exploring to figure it out.  Most of the documentation was translated from Russian or Chinese and the support forum isn’t searchable.  The product and the company get a “C.”

Your company should get an A+ ?

This is a common sense marketing lesson. Regardless of what the lawyers may say, truth is objective. That said, differing perceptions of truth can really cause some damage. Here’s some easy advice:

  1. Check your marketing claims – Are they factual? Can you explain them and back them up? Does your team know them, understand them and agree with them? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” it’s time to reassess.
  2. Analyze the problems – When something goes wrong, what’s the cause? Mistakes are one thing, but unrealistic customer expectations are an issue that needs real examination. What statement or action set an expectation that led to a customer’s disappointment? Use the truth to set any misconceptions straight.
  3. Fix Problems Quickly – Let me say that again. Fix problems quickly.
  4. Pay Attention – People are talking about your company.  Keep an eye on the social networks and make sure that you respond quickly to any customer comment or question. You may even consider a service like TalkWalker that will allow you to monitor social media channels for your company name and other key words.


What is truth?

Finally, don’t become too enamoured with your own notions.  Sometimes the truth hurts. If your customers are telling you that the hamburger they receive doesn’t look like the one in the picture, it’s probably better to look carefully at the hamburger you’re serving than to make excuses for the photograph. Be honest with yourself and implement real solutions to problems. Mark Twain’s simple maxim always makes sense, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” When you market, tell the truth.

Could you use some help with your company’s marketing efforts? Get in touch with DP Marketing.

contactbuttonWe’re available to help you with organization and with specific projects. Let us know if you’d like to discuss your business or a project you’re considering. No risk – the first consultation is absolutely free. If you’d like to get in touch, call Richard Dannenberg at 478-719-4029, email to, or click the button, fill out the form, and we’ll contact you!