Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brand Choice: “vision of perfection” or “perfect visibility”

A "Goof-up" can be a great social media marketing opportunity.

The transparency required of us in a social-media led world causes a number of fairly wrenching paradoxes. One of the clearest of these is the difference between marketing’s goal of being a “vision of perfection” and social media transparency’s goal of “perfect visibility”.

The reality is, none of our organizations, our products, or our services, are perfect. However, it was historically very possible to present a “we are perfect” aura to the outside world, through tightly controlled marketing communications, and careful hiding of any issues. That is no longer possible, as social media ensures that anything noteworthy can be highlighted by communications outside of your control.

But is the goal the opposite – one of “perfect visibility” and total transparency. That is equally unachievable, as there are so many things happening within any organization that it would be impractical to present them all to the outside world.

What is the Goal of Transparency?

So what are we as businesses trying to achieve with transparency efforts? I would suggest that transparency efforts are really company branding efforts. By being a transparent organization, and becoming known as such, we build the following 3 key brand messages in the market:

- No Denial: We’re human, we will make mistakes. Every organization does. However, we will not waste anyone’s efforts in denying those mistakes, we will put all our effort into fixing them.

- No Stalling: We recognize that you rely on our products or services, are happy to shine a light on anything that you, the customer, believe needs to be improved and fixed. It will be in the public eye from the first moment, so you don’t have to worry about delay tactics, misdirections, and stalling. It’s in our best interest to quickly and clearly give an answer (even if the answer is not the one you’re hoping for).

- No Surprises: Rather than being surprised, after the sale, as to what the realities (both good and bad) of the solution are, those things will be communicated upfront.

Most buyers, when looking at providers, would ideally find a provider who doesn’t deny problems, doesn’t stall on solutions, and doesn’t surprise them with disappointments after the sale. Having those perceptions as part of your company brand can be a very good thing.

So how are Goof-ups a good thing?

We all make mistakes – those little errors that are painfully embarrassing, but generally don’t cause significant damage. Things like inviting people to an event that took place a month ago, or is on another continent. When we do this, we often cringe, and want to hide from the world. However, this is a great opportunity to display the transparency we want our customers to see and in doing so build our brand and reputation.

When a mistake happens, be the first to publicize it proactively and apologize – on a company blog, in your community, or via a follow-up email to those affected – whatever is appropriate given the mistake. There’s no need to add extra drama to the situation, but describe what happened, how broad the effects were, where people can find more information (if relevant), and what you’re doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again (even if that is just having an extra coffee in the morning). Over time, your audience’s trust in you will grow as they realize that you are truly running an accountable, transparent organization.

Not only will your audience appreciate the transparency, but your own internal organization will realize that shining a light on the topic wasn’t as bad as feared. Developing this culture of transparency takes time, but is immeasurably valuable in a time of crisis. Don’t let the opportunity pass when a small issue takes place.

Here’s an example from a recent goof-up that we made (Jim suggested I write this post to talk about the topic), where we (as experienced as we are in all things email marketing) left a hard-coded email signature personalization in a communication. Sure enough, there were no major negative effects as a result of this...

Do you have any interesting stories of well-handled goof-ups?
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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Pablo Edwards said...

I love your take on transparency. I think that term is being thrown around quite a bit with not a whole lot of weight behind it!

Tewks said...


You hit on a couple of interesting threads here - how to market transparently, having full disclosure in the face of adversity.

"Castles in the sky". The further sales and marketing get from the product the more it appears able to do. This is the age old problem. I'm not sure social media really changes this. Perceptions can still be manipulated in the social channels. From my perspective I concur, however, that the best approach is to be clear and articulate in communicating the problems you can provide to a market. It's a much more authentic approach.

In terms of the dirty laundry. Wow, not a lot of first hand experience there! Although I think your suggestion would have served folks like Toyota very well!

- Tewks

Steven Woods said...

You're right that marketing can sometimes be far from the product. It's interesting that both search (long tail content) and social media (deeper engagement) are really driving organizations to have subject matter experts, rather than marketers, more involved in content creation. A good trend overall...