Early Coca Cola Ad

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In some of the first Coca-Cola advertisements, the beverage was positioned as a “Brain Tonic” and a cure for headaches and hysteria. A 1905 ad claimed Coca-Cola “relieves mental and physical exhaustion.” While people may have believed those claims back in the day, we know all too well that Coca-Cola would not have remained such a successful brand if it continued using such generic and dishonest marketing tactics today.

Unfortunately, some companies still implement these poor tactics, but here’s the catch: consumers today are smart and can see through that shadiness. We’ve learned to question what we’re told instead of accepting claims at face value. We’ve become less susceptible to the effects of advertising so these sneaky tactics no longer work as well to persuade consumers to buy products and services.

Honest Marketing with a Human Element

The big problem with those types of messages is that they don’t seem authentic and human so we can’t trust them.

“People trust other people, not brands,” said Kelsey Meyer, president of Influence & Co. “For this reason, it’s important to be open and transparent in your messaging to show the human side of your business.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. If brands want to really connect with people, they have to stop acting like robots and show consumers the heart behind the corporation.

A Trend Toward Truth and Transparency in Marketing Messages

An article on cbsnews.com quoted Jay Walker-Smith, president of the Yankelovich marketing firm, saying that “we’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day in the 1970’s to as many as 5,000 a day today.” After years of being bombarded with so many marketing messages, Generation X-ers and Millennials in particular have become skeptical and tend to tune out messages that don’t apply to them in the moment they’re encountered. Unless a message is relayed in a truly authentic way with an attention grabbing human element, the message gets lost in a sea of clutter and impedes the ability for brands to form connections with people.

The solution? Tell the truth and be transparent.

What has sparked this trend?

As people, we’ve shifted the way we perceive brands and have reclaimed control of the relationship. In the past, brands were able to control us and tell us what we need, mostly because we didn’t know any better. Now, we’ve embraced the power we’ve had all along to choose what brands we listen to and who we believe. Buyers today gravitate toward companies that spread individualized messages rather than generic ones because of the humanized element.

An Honest Marketer:

With the help of three marketing professionals from around Columbia, we’ve narrowed down five traits of an honest marketer.

Puts others before himself.

Sarah Hill, the chief storyteller with Veterans United Home Loans, supports the idea that putting your target market at the forefront of every marketing effort is key to being an honest marketer.  “People are portals to your content. Too many brands mistake their brand for being a logo or their website color, font or design. Your brand equals your people,” said Hill.

By focusing your marketing on the people you intend to serve, meeting their needs before your own, trusting relationships can form. Connect with others in an honest way by showing them you understand who they are and what they want. You can do this by:

  • channeling a voice you know your audience responds to,
  • using words and slang that are commonly used by your target audience,
  • and selecting and sharing content that is relevant to your consumers.

Has no ego and no secrets.

secrets are for kids

Secrets are for kids, not honest marketers.

Responding to your audience is your chance to position yourself as a credible source, but credibility isn’t earned through trickery and agenda setting; it’s earned by being open, honest and transparent about your business practices and industry-related topics.

“Transparency can mean talking through the struggles your company has had or giving away some of your trade secrets; this helps your audience connect with you on a more human level, which leads to stronger, longer relationships,” said Meyer.

Once again, being an honest marketer is about showing people you understand their needs and have a solution that makes their life easier instead of more complicated. By taking your ego out of the marketing mix, you’re on the right track to positioning your brand as an approachable entity and not a scheming, conniving corporation.

Makes eye contact.

Hill also advocated for the importance of making eye contact with your clients or customers. “A Cornell study says eye contact increases brand trust by 16%. If you’re in the customer service business, which what company isn’t, eye contact reduces hostilities. Being human is allowing customers to look in the whites of your eyes. Embrace opportunities to have eye contact with your customers and key influencers,” suggests Hill.

Of course not all the exchanges we have with customers these days happen in person, which means we can’t always make eye contact and have firm handshakes. We can, however, make the interactions more personable from a distance thanks to new communication forms. Google Hangouts, Skype and other real time communication technologies allow us to voice call, video chat, and ultimately represent a brand with a human face.

Lets others do the talking.

Put your staff in the ad

We don’t use stock photos in our print ads. We put our employees right on the page!

For a marketer to be viewed as trustworthy and honest, they need to have backup from other sources to support the claims they’re making. Charlie Williamson, the senior vice president of Landmark Bank, is a proponent of testimonial advertising, which has been incorporated into the company’s “I’m a Landmark” campaign.

“Testimonial advertising is one of the most powerful approaches, but you have to have satisfied customers to do it well,” said Williamson.

If you have customers who are willing to endorse your company, let them spread the message! This all harks back to the idea of people trusting other people more than they trust brands. If you don’t have any positive feedback from customers about your brand, that’s a red flag signaling you to rethink some of your marketing tactics.

Isn’t a stock photo.

The fifth trait that we’ve found honest marketers possess is sharing candid images of the business, both literally and figuratively. On the one hand, Hill suggests using “real people in your messaging or real employees.” Stock photos are not a good representation of your business and lack the personality that makes your brand unique.

On a more figurative level, your brand can’t be a stock photo in the sense that you lack personality and individuality in the way you communicate with customers. “Quit hiding behind your logo, and start interacting with your following on a deeper level than a text-based social media post,” Hill said. Add a little bit of spunk and spice to your brand voice to make you sound more human and relatable, rather than sounding like an automated message.


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