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4 March 2016

What can happen when you’re not honest as a marketer?

Golden_egg.pngSome weeks ago, when driving my car, I was listening to the radio. The newsreader was talking about a contest in The Netherlands called “The Golden Windegg”, a competition organized by the “Foodwatch” organization. As a company you particularly hope not to be nominated for this award, and if you are, you cross your fingers in the hope that you don’t win the prize for most misleading product of the year. The “lucky” winner of the Golden Windegg 2015 was Albert Heijn, for their cranberries. Although these cranberries are sold as so-called “superfoods”, they consist of 68%  added syrup and contain only 30% real cranberries. Needless to say, this is a prize the store should not be proud of.

Foodwatch investigates the information on packaging and seeks to impose restraints on the most misleading products. Foodwatch receives complaints every day from disappointed customers who feel misled and cheated. Cheese with 30% less fat seems to be a solution for people looking for a more healthy alternative. Unfortunately, you’ll get about 430% more sugar instead.  Packaging that looks really promising, but turns out to be only half full or not contain the amount of ingredients shown on the packaging. I’m sure we have all had a similar experience.  Another example was explained by Jef Colruyt in De Tijd (30th January 2016). Action is a major competitor of the Colruyt Group, but it doesn’t fight with the same weapons. By buying and reselling certain products, it does not offer the level of quality promised on the packaging. From Jef Colruyt’s point of view, you should respect some codes of ethics. Only by doing this will you be able to create long-term relationships, both with customers and suppliers. Only this will lead to real success over the years.

Although we marketers all know the importance of open and transparent communication, we find it very difficult to apply it in our daily jobs. Why is it that we choose the path of least resistance too often and not tell the truth or even lie about our products or services? Why do we believe it’s better to tell our customers a beautiful story instead of being open and honest?

In an Omnichannel world, companies use all kinds of media to influence their customers. The main aim of their messages is to convince as many people as possible to purchase their products or services. Most of the time, marketers only point out the positive aspects and try to conceal any possible negative information. By doing this, they frame their messages in such a way that only gives the audience information from a specific positive perspective.

In my opinion, you should always be honest in your communication to your existing and potential customers.


The truth will always come out eventually…

Not only we marketers, but also our customers have become digital. Nowadays, it’s really easy to look up information wherever you are. If someone is not sure about the information stated on a pack, they can easily search on the internet and check the right information. Nutrifacts, for example, is an app created by consumers, for consumers. You scan the barcode and immediately you can see all the nutritional information for that product.


But being too positive makes your customers suspicious

Every product or service must have at least one or two downsides. That doesn’t mean your product is not good, it may simply be that you might not have the cheapest product on the market due to the high quality. If you are transparent about it, customers feel they are being given all the information and can make a well-informed purchase decision. If you aren’t, they will try to find something negative. And if they can’t, they’ll get the feeling the brand is trying to mislead them and so they probably won’t buy anything at all.


“There’s no such thing as bad publicity”, is really a myth

Better 10 customers who will not buy a specific product, than on dissatisfied customer.
Complaints spread like wildfire, especially in this digital age. People do not rely on the information they receive from a brand any more, but go looking actively for information. Facebook, Twitter, forums, blogs, are goldmines of “honest” information.

People believe they are getting fair opinions, because they are written by other customers, who have nothing to win or to lose by giving their opinion. As a company, it’s really important to keep an eye on all the communication disseminated on social media. If you find negative feedback, don’t ignore it and certainly don’t try to deny it. Apologise for having an dissatisfied customer and try to explain what went wrong. 


In short, as a company you always need to be transparent in your communication to your customers. By doing this, they will feel that they are not being misled, and can make well-informed purchasing decisions, having been told both the advantages and the disadvantages. If you decide not to be transparent, be aware that the average customer is Omnichannel and will use different kinds of media to find information about your products or services.

In my opinion, both the winner and the nominees of the Golden Windegg 2015 should embrace a different strategy in the future. In the short term, they might win some customers who will be seduced by the beautiful packaging or strong health claims. But in the longer term, they will not only lose those dissatisfied customers, but also potential customers who have come to hear about these malpractices. Honesty is still the best policy!



Retail marketing strategy delivering shopper delight, Constant Berkhout