Branding is changing. Slick marketing is out. Transparency is in. But catchy phrases like that don't help marketers know exactly what to do these days. Disclose all the ingredients in their products? Share the brand's sustainability benchmarks despite not yet achieving them? Put a shiny marketing "spin" on the brand, or tell it like it is, warts and all? It seems many brand marketers are paralyzed, not sure exactly how to square the discrepancy between traditional marketing and radical transparency. I had an experience last week that gave me insight into an approach.
I'll set the scene:
Commuter flight between San Francisco and Santa Barbara.
Prop plane, 30 passengers.
Stormy weather in California all week.
40 minutes into a 65 minute flight, just beginning descent.
Turbulence always seems minor when you're not on the flight and terrifying when you are on the flight. In my business I fly a lot and I don't usually freak out at turbulence. But during these 2 minutes in the air, you could feel at least 30 people simultaneously grab their armrests and gasp, me included. The prop plane had a single aisle. And the lone flight attendant was buckled into her jump seat, looking down that aisle ... at 30 sets of eyes suddenly locked into hers. That's the moment when she did what every brand today needs to figure out how to do.
She reached over and grabbed the intercom. Then staring at all 30 of us she said, "Look. Here's the deal ... turbulence happens all the time. The pilots you're flying with are well trained. This is just the equivalent of driving on a bumpy road." She went on to give us the fairly traditional spiel about air sickness bags, opening air vents and finding the horizon line.
I found myself instantly relieved. And it wasn't because of the information. Frankly, it was stuff everyone already knew. What made me feel better was her starting with, "Look. Here's the deal." Simple. Straightforward. Honest. No-BS, no marketing spiel. I think many brands could learn from her. Because many brands have great things to say, despite not being perfect.
Maybe your brand has been working to replace the harmful chemicals in your product. Maybe your packaging isn't 100% recyclable, but you're exploring options. Maybe your brand has energy or waste targets, but you're not completely there yet. Even that may be worth sharing with consumers right now. But in getting caught between what we want to say and what we think the brand should say, we often don't say anything at all. Sometimes a little straight-shooting, no-BS honesty with customers could go a long way in making them feel better about your brand. Much better than simply putting on a shiny face and repeating the standard marketing line.