Brands traditionally hit on the pros of their products, attempting to sweep under the rug any possible issues. Let’s face it – it’s hard to admit our weaknesses, one might even say gut-wrenching. How can you divulge the flaws of the products and/or services you hope to sell?

But heres’ the thing – it can be a powerful marketing tool. In fact, today it may be the only marketing tool worth keeping in your box.

So, if the question is, “Do you want me to point out the flaws of my product?” your answer should be, “Yes.”

Case Study: The Volkswagen Beetle

When the Volkswagen Beetle was first introduced  with slogans like “Think Small,” and “Ugly is Only Skin Deep,” it appeared as if the marketing executives had not had one too many drinks. They were flagrantly embracing the elephant in the room – the car was odd and ugly.

One ad highlighted how small it was by illustrating that a professional basketball player could not fit in the car, no matter how hard he tried.

But, as William Bernbach, who was part of the team that created these legendary ad campaigns, once said, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”

Working with the likes of Jane Koenig and Helmut Krone on the project, William knew that the team had their work cut out for them. As brilliant ad execs, they recognized that the car was different from anything that had ever been on the market. They knew people would likely have strong reactions to the car’s odd shape, style and size.

Here are some other things they knew about the car: The bug is/was definitely not the best family vehicle. It is/was odd looking, but possibly cute. They also knew that the car had a very specific market that could, and would, fall in love with it given the chance.

The campaign they created flew in the face of past advertising campaigns that almost always marketed the vehicles for their luxury and grandeur.

Instead of playing the Beetle’s eccentricities down, they put them front and center. They created simple, visually captivating black and white ads with images that had not been retouched. Many of the early VW ad campaigns are now classics.

The ads caught people’s attention because they were so unpretentious and somehow seemed disinterested in impressing the consumer.

The most classic is almost certainly the “Lemon” campaign, where the vehicle sat under the word “Lemon.” And yes, that is the quite possibly the worst word you could use to associate with a vehicle. They put it in bold face type.

Williams and company were acknowledging that the car had been delayed in production due to defects. The ad assured their buyers that the problem had been addressed and that they were not ignoring it.

The good, the bad, the ugly

Today, this type of honesty and transparency about products and services is even more important. The internet has made “shopping around” simple. Nobody wants to buy from people they don’t trust. That’s why honesty at every step builds trust.

String people out to believe that your product can solve their problem and you run the risk of being wrong. Consumers don’t want to feel deceived. Being honest: can:

  • Draw the attention of the right buyers
  • Drive away the wrong prospective customers
  • Build trust
  • Help you better understand your product
  • Minimize expectations

The Rittenhouse Rankings survey, which analyzes shareholder letters of CEOs and compares what they call “candor scores” to the company’s performance, uncovered several things every brand should know. For example, the highest ranked [those with the highest candor scores] companies have consistently outperformed the market on average by 6.0 percent over the past decade and by 9.5 percent over the past five years. In addition, the bottom-ranked companies had on average underperformed the market by 3.4 percent over the past decade and by 5.6 percent over the past five years.

Of course, this is not necessarily due to the honesty of the letters, or the CEOs or businesses. After all, correlation is not causation. But it’s interesting to consider the incredible impact that transparency can have.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer’s 2015 survey, 63 percent of respondents refuse to buy products and services from a company they do not trust. Its 2017 findings illustrate that companies are considered less trustworthy all of time – CEO credibility dropped 12 points globally to an all-time low of 37 percent and trust in business dropped to 52 percent.

There is no way around it – you must be trustworthy to be successful as a brand these days.

According to the article – “6 Things Leaders Do to Set Themselves Apart From the Pack” – by Brian Tracy, many companies and organizations fail because they don’t follow the reality principle. “Integrity means telling the truth even if the truth is ugly. Better to be honest than to delude others, because then you are probably deluding yourself, too,” Tracy wrote.

When you look at your product or service honestly, what do you see? Attributes? Flaws? If you’re smart, you see both. The mark of a good brand is knowing that there is always room for improvement.

Putting it all out there

This you already know – consumers respond positively to brands that put it all out there. One of the best ways to engage and develop an intimate relationship with your market is through content.

But just as content can be a helpful marketing tool for brand, it can also be an easy way to lose the trust of your market. The lesson – don’t push “sponsored content” down your community’s throat.

A great article, video, slideshow, etc., that speaks straight to your intended audience with candor can help earn loyalty points and make connections. In a world of excessive noise, nobody wants to sift through a bunch of fluff.

The minute your customer sense a hint of deception or evasiveness or lies of omission of any kind, you will lose credibility. And trust is what drives your brand.

Embracing the elephant

The best marketing strategy your brand can make is to embrace the big pink elephant in the room. If the product is ugly, but works, point it out. Then tell them how you can make it better.

It’s all about earning trust. And in earning that trust, you build relationships, not push products or services.

This starts at the top. Leadership must set the tone. “Leaders must be accountable to team members and team members must be accountable to leaders,” says Brian Braudis, leadership expert and President of the Braudis Group. “Everyone is held accountable for the success of the company. Team members expect that the espoused values will be acted on and implemented. Leaders must ensure this happens. Emptiness begets emptiness.”

So, if you and your colleagues value candor, transparency and what borders on insanity when it comes to honesty, then everyone in the business will. But if you aren’t willing to address the flaws of your good or service, no one else at the company is going to say much.

Putting your plan in motion

So, how can you put this into practice in the print industry? For starters, look at your products, services and offerings with an unbiased eye. Then, share what you see with the rest of your team and community.

A clever ad or marketing campaign for a printer in today’s landscape might focus on the things that print cannot do while simultaneously reminding the consumer of all of its assets as well. It is not, for example, immediately accessible at the click of a button. But you can touch, hold, feel or smell it.

Be honest. Be self-deprecating. Be funny. Exude confidence and you will earn trust. And remember what advertisers realized decades ago about the VW Beetle – consumers love and respond to honesty. Nothing is more relevant today than telling the truth.

When people get the sense you’re not willing to fudge, fib or lie – even for a sale – they’ll be more likely to give you their business.

No kidding.