When it comes to marketing yourself and your practice, honesty never fails.
New marketing concepts are constantly emerging. We’ve seen the rise of “green” marketing—appealing to people’s environmental concerns through sustainable practices. Then there’s mobile marketing—finding new ways to get the attention of potential customers clutching hand-held devices.
There’s a lot to be said for new strategies, but it sometimes seems people get dazzled by novel approaches. They forget there’s one enduring strategy that never fails: honesty.
Simply telling customers and prospective clients who and what you are only goes so far. At some point, you have to show them. And if the experience you provide doesn’t match with how you’ve represented yourself, your company, your practice or your product, they’ll not only walk away—they’ll likely take others with them.
Owning up to mistakes
There are a lot of ways your honesty—or lack of it—can be revealed in the course of a day. Sometimes, it may seem like the price of being honest is just too high; for instance, when you’ve made a mistake you fear will seriously damage your reputation. Do you own up to the mistake? Blame someone else? Cover it up?
I like Jason Fried’s answer.
Fried is the co-founder of 37signals, a company that produces a chat tool called Campfire for small businesses. A couple years ago, he wrote a column in Inc. magazine about what happened when Campfire malfunctioned, sparking a real wildfire of rage among his customers.
According to Fried, “People don’t judge you on the basis of your mistakes—they judge you on the manner in which you own up to them.”
Fried and his business partner were honest about their mistake, and sincere and consistent in their apologies. They corrected the problem, of course, and also gave their customers a free month of service for the disruption.
By the end of their nightmare, Fried and his business partner were getting messages like this from their customers: “37signals has been giving a free lesson in customer service and honesty the past few weeks.”
While I don’t believe anyone reading this would intentionally lie to customers or in their marketing, there are many situations that test us! I find it helps to have the rules of engagement firmly in place before a situation arises.
Here are a few good, “old-school” marketing strategies:
- Be honest about what you can do—and what you can’t. Recently, I had a prospective, high-profile client who would’ve been a dream to bring onboard in our PR company. In our many conversations, he talked about the kind of publicity he wanted and the general goals he hoped to meet. I knew we would have no problem getting him what he was looking for. But then, just as he was preparing to sign a contract, he shared what he really wanted: His own regular segment on a national network morning show. To get that he would need more than a publicity campaign, so it’s unlikely we could make it happen for him. And I was honest about that. He didn’t sign on with us, but we maintained our integrity and he’s not disappointed.
- Keep your word. If you say you’ll have something done by a certain date, move heaven and earth to meet the deadline. If for some reason you can’t, let the customer know, tell them why and be prepared to help mitigate the consequences if possible. The corollary rule on deadlines is don’t promise more than you can deliver.
- Remember, there’s a fine line between attention-getting and trickery. In marketing, the competition for attention is overwhelming, so we draw upon all of our creativity to make ourselves stand out. That’s fine. Tricking people is not. In fact, some tricks—like the old bait-and-switch tactic—amount to fraud. Others may not have legal consequences but can be just as damaging.
It boils down to the Golden Rule for business—do unto your clients, customers and prospects as you would like done unto you. Sometimes, it requires making some really hard decisions. But in the end, integrity is the most valuable marketing tool in your arsenal.
By Marsha Friedman
Marsha Friedman is CEO of EMSI Public Relations, a national firm that provides PR strategy and publicity services to corporations, entertainers, authors and professional firms. Friedman is the author of “Celebritize Yourself: The Three Step Method to Increase Your Visibility and Explode Your Business.” For more information, visit www.emsincorporated.com. Follow Friedman on Twitter @marshafriedman.