What about external communications, all of which constitute marketing in one form or another? Do the same guide-posts apply when communicating with customers, investors, prospects, and the media?
Imagine that you're planning a campaign to introduce a new product. What are some of your immediate considerations? First, you know that your potential audience is assaulted with thousands of messages daily, so what you say must be concise and to the point. To stand out, your message must be creative and differentiated and pack a punch. But you're not looking for a one-off; you want to create a loyal customer base for your product. And that means building trust. So your messaging not only has to make noise about your product, it also has to make a promise. Customers have to be assured that your product—and by extension, your company—deserves their trust.
This approach, what I call "trust-based marketing," is key to building fruitful, long-lasting relationships with your customers. "The sale merely consummates the courtship," writes former Harvard Business Review editor Theodore Levitt. "Then the marriage begins. How good the marriage is depends on how well the relationship is managed by the seller." This managing of the relationship is not limited to communications. Trust-based marketing informs all aspects of marketing—branding, pricing, positioning, distribution, sales, customer service, and so on. However, for this discussion, it's worthwhile to examine how clarity, consistency, and compassion assist you in creating effective and empathetic marketing communications—thus helping you to build a trust-based brand.
With a sea of competitors, you must get clear about what it is you want to say. Tell your customers why you're different, and be clear and concise in doing it. Does that mean your message should be stripped of emotion? Not a chance. People buy from people they like, and that means connecting on an emotional level. But people also buy from people they trust, and they're more likely to trust you if they understand the exact benefits your product or service has to offer them—and why none of your competitors can touch what you're offering. Emotion sells, but marketers in Accountable Organizations realize that substance is just as important.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the self-improvement training business—in which I've had some experience (see chapter 9). Invariably, these companies lack clarity and specificity in marketing copy when it comes to the functional benefits of their product. Visit any one of these companies' Web sites and you'll see what I mean. Many do a good job of appealing to potential customers' emotions through visual imagery and client testimonials. However, the copy is often unclear—at times unbelievable—about the specific benefits to be gained by attending one of the seminars.
Granted, marketing materials for personal growth and leadership seminars perhaps are designed to have more of an emotional appeal than those for other products. And having been through many of these seminars, I have an understanding of the benefits offered. But if companies in this industry want to experience breakthrough growth—and appeal to corporate training managers—they will have to communicate something more specific than "the experience of a lifetime." Particularly with their higher price points, these companies will have to get specific as to how seminar attendees will perform better at work as a result, learn to achieve their goals, and so on.
Is your core message steadfast, or does it change with the wind? Successful marketers consistently reinforce their product message time and again. The approach may change, but the overarching theme is the same: You can count on us. For example, customers can count on BMW for sophistication, cachet, top-flight engineering, and an exhilarating driving experience. Its marketing communications continuously reinforce this message.
Customers don't like to be unpleasantly surprised; they like consistency and predictability. An overflowing marketplace is not only frustrating to marketers, it's confounding to harried consumers. An established and trusted brand is reassuring; it promises a familiar experience, reducing the risk of disappointment. Consumers like variety, to be sure, but only within a context of consistency—consistent service, consistent quality, and so on. There is power in this kind of predictability, and it needs to come across in your messaging.
Related to consistency is frequency. How frequently do you communicate with your customers? Do you keep in touch in a way that not only promotes but also provides value to your audience? As a consumer, I want to know that the companies I buy from care about me. I don't want to be inundated with generic messaging—I want tailored communication that is specific to me and my needs.
I appreciate the e-mails that I receive about once a month from http://Amazon.com. Based on my past purchases, the company makes suggestions about products that might interest me—and most of the time it's a decent recommendation. For me, it's the right frequency and, while unmistakably promotional, the communication itself provides value in that it alerts me to new books and music that I normally might not have heard of.
Are you communicating honestly with your customers? As a marketer, you may say that's impossible, that you're trying to play up the positives and sell your product, not reveal its shortcomings. And besides, isn't all advertising slanted in favor of the company hawking the product? Valid points.
It's true that marketing copy is designed to promote—to make people interested in a product or company. But there is a line between honest promotion and deceptive spin, and Accountable Organizations stay on the right side of that divide. There is a price to pay for spinning and lies, even omitted truths. Of course, there may be a short-term price to pay for honesty, but the long-term benefits of being forthright more than compensate. Don't hide behind overblown marketing rhetoric—show true understanding and appreciation for your customers' concerns. Tell them the truth about what they're buying and you'll earn their trust.
Clarity, consistency, and honesty in customer communications are vital for building a trust-based brand. These qualities don't preclude you from striking an emotional chord with your customers. In fact, they pave the way for making deep and lasting connections with them—thus potentially reducing the cost of retaining them.
See my working paper "Trust-Based Marketing: Building Winning Brands with Clarity and Purpose," at http://www.johnmarchica.com.
Theodore Levitt, The Marketing Imagination, expanded ed. (New York: Free Press, 1986), 111.